Department of Geography and the Environment

Research Spotlight: Dr. Jennifer Miller

Mon, August 25, 2014
Research Spotlight: Dr. Jennifer Miller

The Department of Geography and the Environment is pleased to announce that Dr. Jennifer Miller has received a three year grant to support research on analyzing dynamic interactions between animals using GPS data (NSF #1424920). 

Technological advancements in global positioning systems (GPS) and related satellite tracking technologies have resulted in significant increases in the availability of highly accurate
 data on moving objects, dramatically outpacing the development of appropriate methods with which to analyze them. Movement pattern analysis (MPA), a burgeoning research area in GIScience, extends previous work on time-geography that focused primarily on representation and semantics, therefore the methodological and analytical framework associated with MPA is new and still
 evolving. Most studies on movement involve people, automobiles, or animals, and while there
 are obvious and fundamental differences among these three application types, there are also many important commonalities associated with the analysis of any movement data irrespective 
of the type of object. Within MPA, human interactions have been studied far more extensively than any other type, and they are often based on detailed information 
such as ’travel diaries’ from which activity spaces can be calculated and intersections of
multiple activity spaces can be used to derive social interaction metrics. 
The nature of interactions between individuals of an animal population is a fundamental aspect
of a species’ behavioral ecology and information on the frequency and duration of these interactions is vital to understanding mating and territorial behavior, resource use, and infectious disease epidemiology. ‘Dynamic interaction’ between two individuals is defined as occurring within a spatial and temporal threshold and can provide information on possible attraction and avoidance of individuals that are in the same area at the same time. However, the number of times an individual animal comes into contact with another is an extremely difficult parameter to estimate, and previous studies have focused on highly observable species living within protected areas or urban areas (ex. foxes in London in the context of rabies spread).

Preliminary research has shown that current dynamic interaction metrics produce quite variable results
 that hinder the ability to better understand how two individuals interact (Miller 2012). The proposed research is innovative because it will provide a much-needed extensive and systematic comparison of the metrics used to analyze dynamic interactions. The findings will be synthesized
 into a framework that can provide guidelines through all steps of data collection, analysis,
 and interpretation. This framework can be used by researchers and resource/wildlife managers to determine which dynamic interaction metrics are appropriate for which types of data and questions, and to better understand the interaction behavior being studied. While this research focuses on animal movement and interactions, the results will be applicable to other moving objects
that interact and could potentially be used to study a wide variety of phenomena that involve interaction such as disease spread, information diffusion, crowd movement, and traffic behavior.

Dr. Miller will be seeking a graduate student (preferably doctoral) to work on the project starting fall 2015. She is looking for students with a GIScience and/or ecology background with spatial analysis and modeling expertise. Candidates should have very strong R skills and preferably some python programming experience. 

If you are a potential graduate student interested in working on this project, please see general information about the graduate program here and more specific information about working with Dr. Miller here.


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