Limitations of using surrogates for behaviour classification of accelerometer data: refining methods using random forest models in Caprids

Eleanor R Dickinson, Joshua P Twining, Rory Wilson, Philip A Stephens, Jennie Westander, Nikki Marks, David M Scantlebury

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Citations (Scopus)
55 Downloads (Pure)


BACKGROUND: Animal-attached devices can be used on cryptic species to measure their movement and behaviour, enabling unprecedented insights into fundamental aspects of animal ecology and behaviour. However, direct observations of subjects are often still necessary to translate biologging data accurately into meaningful behaviours. As many elusive species cannot easily be observed in the wild, captive or domestic surrogates are typically used to calibrate data from devices. However, the utility of this approach remains equivocal.

METHODS: Here, we assess the validity of using captive conspecifics, and phylogenetically-similar domesticated counterparts (surrogate species) for calibrating behaviour classification. Tri-axial accelerometers and tri-axial magnetometers were used with behavioural observations to build random forest models to predict the behaviours. We applied these methods using captive Alpine ibex (Capra ibex) and a domestic counterpart, pygmy goats (Capra aegagrus hircus), to predict the behaviour including terrain slope for locomotion behaviours of captive Alpine ibex.

RESULTS: Behavioural classification of captive Alpine ibex and domestic pygmy goats was highly accurate (> 98%). Model performance was reduced when using data split per individual, i.e., classifying behaviour of individuals not used to train models (mean ± sd = 56.1 ± 11%). Behavioural classifications using domestic counterparts, i.e., pygmy goat observations to predict ibex behaviour, however, were not sufficient to predict all behaviours of a phylogenetically similar species accurately (> 55%).

CONCLUSIONS: We demonstrate methods to refine the use of random forest models to classify behaviours of both captive and free-living animal species. We suggest there are two main reasons for reduced accuracy when using a domestic counterpart to predict the behaviour of a wild species in captivity; domestication leading to morphological differences and the terrain of the environment in which the animals were observed. We also identify limitations when behaviour is predicted in individuals that are not used to train models. Our results demonstrate that biologging device calibration needs to be conducted using: (i) with similar conspecifics, and (ii) in an area where they can perform behaviours on terrain that reflects that of species in the wild.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)28
Number of pages1
JournalMovement Ecology
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 01 Jun 2021


  • Alpine Ibex
  • Behaviour Identification
  • Biologging
  • Pygmy Goat
  • Terrain Slope
  • Tri-axial Accelerometry
  • Tri-axial Magnetometry


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