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Modeling and Visualizing Tiger Movement in Thailand

Somayeh Dodge's research on advancing simulation models for moving phenomena
November 7, 2016

Our world is dynamic and changing over time. Any change in the environment and its associated processes can have an impact on the behavior of humans and other organisms. Today's technology provides nonstop observations of our dynamic world at unprecedented spatial and temporal granularities. 

Dr. Dodge’s research aims to develop geographic visualizations, analytical methods, and simulation models to study spatiotemporal processes in space, time, and at different spatial and temporal scales. In particular, her research focuses on analysis and modeling of movement in applications relevant to ecology, mobility, human health, environment, and global change. Movement is key to many spatiotemporal phenomena. The spatiotemporal signal produced by a moving entity is a complex composite that reflects multiple scales of its behavior from the local choices to the global objectives that drive movement. Dr. Dodge develops simulation techniques that incorporate and deconstruct the environmental and behavioral drivers of movement for more reliable and realistic representations. Simulation of movement is essential for studying and predicting patterns and behavioral responses of moving agents to varying environmental conditions and their interactions with other individuals.

Her current research involves investigating the movement patterns of endangered tigers (Panthera tigris) in relation to their environment and underlying landscape. This project is an interdisciplinary research collaboration with Professor James D. Smith from the University’s Department of Fisheries, Wildlife and Conservation Biology. The goal of the project is to create a simulation model based on the analysis of tiger movement patterns in order to predict the future viability of tiger populations in a changing environment. The aim is to characterize the complexity of the movement and behavior of tigers as they relate to the environment, the other individuals with whom they interact, and their own geographic strategies for resource usage. The project utilizes Global Positioning System tracking data from more than 20 tigers acquired over the past decade throughout the Western Forest Complex of west-central Thailand. In their recent publication in the International Journal of Geographic Information Science, Dr. Dodge and collaborators developed a new stochastic simulation model that incorporates three important components of movement: space, time, and context (i.e., external environmental factors). The model incorporates local choices that tigers may make, which are nested within other aspects of tigers’ behavior such as patrolling, hunting, etc. For instance, a tiger patrols its home range at certain intervals, however, the path it takes may be influenced by the characteristics of the terrain and vegetation. Using this model, they investigated the influence of geography and physiography (i.e., the shape of home range and landscape characteristics) on tigers' movement characteristics. The knowledge gained from this research will contribute to the modeling, understanding, and prediction of tiger behavior and their survivability within a changing environment.