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Stay close, but not too close: aerial image analysis reveals patterns of social distancing in seal colonies
Hoekendijk, J.P.A.; Grundlehner, A.; Brasseur, S.; Kellenberger, B.; Tuia, D.; Aarts, G. (2023). Stay close, but not too close: aerial image analysis reveals patterns of social distancing in seal colonies. Royal Society Open Science 10(8): 230269.

Bijhorende data:
In: Royal Society Open Science. The Royal Society: London. ISSN 2054-5703; e-ISSN 2054-5703, meer
Peer reviewed article  

Beschikbaar in  Auteurs 

    Halichoerus grypus (Fabricius, 1791) [WoRMS]; Phoca vitulina Linnaeus, 1758 [WoRMS]
Author keywords
    nearest neighbour distance; density; remotesensing; Phoca vitulina; Halichoerus grypus; herding behaviour

Auteurs  Top 
  • Hoekendijk, J.P.A., meer
  • Grundlehner, A.
  • Brasseur, S.
  • Kellenberger, B.
  • Tuia, D.
  • Aarts, G.

    Many species aggregate in dense colonies. Species-specific spatial patterns provide clues about how colonies are shaped by various (a)biotic factors, including predation, temperature regulation or disease transmission. Using aerial imagery, we examined these patterns in colonies on land of two sympatric seal species: the harbour seal and grey seal. Results show that the density of grey seals on land is twice as high as that of harbour seals. Furthermore, the nearest neighbour distance (NND) of harbour seals (median = 1.06 m) is significantly larger than that of grey seals (median = 0.53 m). Avoidance at small distances (i.e. social distancing) was supported by spatial simulation: when the observed seal locations were shuffled slightly, the frequency of the smallest NNDs (0–25 cm) increased, while the most frequently observed NNDs decreased. As harbour seals are more prone to infectious diseases, we hypothesize that the larger NNDs might be a behavioural response to reduce pathogen transmission. The approach presented here can potentially be used as a practical tool to differentiate between harbour and grey seals in remote sensing applications, particularly in low to medium resolution imagery (e.g. satellite imagery), where morphological characteristics alone are insufficient to differentiate between species.

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