Effects of study area size on home range estimates of common bottlenose dolphins Tursiops truncatus

Samantha R. Nekolny, University of North Florida
Matthew Denny, Georgia Aquarium Conservation Field Station
George Biedenbach, University of North Florida
Elisabeth M. Howells, Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute at Florida Atlantic University
Marilyn Mazzoil, Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute at Florida Atlantic University
Wendy N. Durden, Hubbs-SeaWorld Research Institute
Lydia Moreland, Hubbs-SeaWorld Research Institute
J. David Lambert, University of North Florida
Quincy A. Gibson, University of North Florida


Knowledge of an animal's home range is a crucial component in making informed management decisions. However, many home range studies are limited by study area size, and therefore may underestimate the size of the home range. In many cases, individuals have been shown to travel outside of the study area and utilize a larger area than estimated by the study design. In this study, data collected by multiple research groups studying bottlenose dolphins on the east coast of Florida were combined to determine how home range estimates increased with increasing study area size. Home range analyses utilized photo-identification data collected from 6 study areas throughout the St Johns River (SJR; Jacksonville, FL, USA) and adjacent waterways, extending a total of 253km to the southern end of Mosquito Lagoon in the Indian River Lagoon Estuarine System. Univariate kernel density estimates (KDEs) were computed for individuals with 10 or more sightings (n=20). Kernels were calculated for the primary study area (SJR) first, then additional kernels were calculated by combining the SJR and the next adjacent waterway; this continued in an additive fashion until all study areas were included. The 95% and 50% KDEs calculated for the SJR alone ranged from 21 to 35 km and 4 to 19 km, respectively. The 95% and 50% KDEs calculated for all combined study areas ranged from 116 to 217km and 9 to 70 km, respectively. This study illustrates the degree to which home range may be underestimated by the use of limited study areas and demonstrates the benefits of conducting collaborative science.