A critical examination of indices of dynamic interaction for wildlife telemetry studies

Jed A. Long, Trisalyn A. Nelson, Stephen L. Webb, Kenneth L. Gee

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

89 Scopus citations


Wildlife scientists continue to be interested in studying ways to quantify how the movements of animals are interdependent - dynamic interaction. While a number of applied studies of dynamic interaction exist, little is known about the comparative effectiveness and applicability of available methods used for quantifying interactions between animals. We highlight the formulation, implementation and interpretation of a suite of eight currently available indices of dynamic interaction. Point- and path-based approaches are contrasted to demonstrate differences between methods and underlying assumptions on telemetry data. Correlated and biased correlated random walks were simulated at a range of sampling resolutions to generate scenarios with dynamic interaction present and absent. We evaluate the effectiveness of each index at identifying different types of interactive behaviour at each sampling resolution. Each index is then applied to an empirical telemetry data set of three white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) dyads. Results from the simulated data show that three indices of dynamic interaction reliant on statistical testing procedures are susceptible to Type I error, which increases at fine sampling resolutions. In the white-tailed deer examples, a recently developed index for quantifying local-level cohesive movement behaviour (the di index) provides revealing information on the presence of infrequent and varying interactions in space and time. Point-based approaches implemented with finely sampled telemetry data overestimate the presence of interactions (Type I errors). Indices producing only a single global statistic (7 of the 8 indices) are unable to quantify infrequent and varying interactions through time. The quantification of infrequent and variable interactive behaviour has important implications for the spread of disease and the prevalence of social behaviour in wildlife. Guidelines are presented to inform researchers wishing to study dynamic interaction patterns in their own telemetry data sets. Finally, we make our code openly available, in the statistical software R, for computing each index of dynamic interaction presented herein.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1216-1233
Number of pages18
JournalJournal of Animal Ecology
Issue number5
StatePublished - Sep 2014
Externally publishedYes


  • Biased random walk
  • Contact rate
  • GPS telemetry
  • Odocoileus virginianus
  • Proximity
  • Sampling resolution
  • Simulation
  • Static interaction

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Animal Science and Zoology


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