rNDOW package

March 22, 2016

(This article was first published on /mgritts_, and kindly contributed to R-bloggers)

Over the last few months I’ve been writing tons of R functions. They all go to GitHub, but they aren’t easily used in R. Each time I want to use one I have to use source('url.to.repo'). I finally decided it was time to write an R package to more easily access these functions, and make them more user friendly for my colleagues.

Writing R packages

The best sources to help write R packages are Hilary Parker’s quick post about writing a personal R package, and Hadley Wickham’s R Packages book. I won’t go into detail about how to write a package as these are two great source. I will say that the easiest way to write a package is to use RStudio and distribute on GitHub.

Push to GitHub

Once your .R files are saved and .Rd files are generated with devtools::document() push to a GitHub repo. Now all you have to do in order to install you package is devtools::install_github('username/repo'). Now your package is installed and usable by you and your colleagues.


The rNDOW package is very early in development. I’ve added three functions that I use very frequently for exploratory analysis and visualization of animal movement data (post on that soon!). The package will be used by my colleagues to interface with our data management systems. Due to this, many functions will have hard-coded or default values that make data analysis easier for us. Most of the functions will encapsulate common data munging, exploration, and visualization procedures.


There are 4 functions in the package, xyConv, moveParams, plotTraj and plot3DTraj. I’ve included a randomly sampled animal trajectory for examples muldDat. The packages can be found at the NDOW-ARG/rNDOW repository. The functions solve a common workflow I have in R, converting latlong coordinates to UTM, adding parameters for animal movement models, and plotting the animal trajectory for exploratory visualization. More information on the input and specifics of the functions can be found at the bottom of the post.


Here is an example of how I use the functions.

df <- xyConv(muldDat)
df <- moveParams(df$X, df$Y, df$timestamp, dat = df, isPOSIXct = F)
plotTraj(df$X, df$Y)
plot3DTraj(df$X, df$Y, df$timestamp, df$timestamp)

Line 1 calls the data from the package. Line 2 converts the coordinates to UTM Zone 11, the default options work for me. Line 3 adds the movement parameters to the dataframe. The timestamp isn’t class POSIXct so I convert it using the fasttime library. Line 4 and 5 plot the trajectory. Line 5 creates a “space time cube”, a visualization of the spatial and temporal distribution of the animals GPS locations.

About the functions


Convert geographic coordinates from one coordinate system to another. The input is:

  1. df – a data.table or data.frame with the geographic coordinates.
  2. xy – the names of the x and y coordinates.
  3. CRSin – the proj4string of the input coordinates.
  4. CRSout – the proj4string for the coordinates to be converted to.
  5. outclass – the class for the output object. There are three options
  6. data.frame – output as a data.frame with converted coordinates.
  7. data.table – output as a data.table with the converted coordinates.
  8. spdf – output as a SpatialPointsDataFrame with the converted coordinates as the @coord slot.

Each output class has its pros and cons. I like working with the data.table package. Converting to SpatialPointsDataFrame makes writing shapefiles and plotting easier.

xyConv <- function(df, xy = c('long_x', 'lat_y'), CRSin = '+proj=longlat', CRSout = '+proj=utm +zone=11',
                    outclass = 'data.table') {
  if (class(df)[1] == 'data.frame') {
    df <- as.data.table(df)

  df <- na.omit(df, cols = xy)
  conv <- SpatialPoints(cbind('X' = as.numeric(df[[xy[1]]]),
                              'Y' = as.numeric(df[[xy[2]]])),
                        proj4string = CRS(CRSin))
  conv <- spTransform(conv, CRS(CRSout))
  df <- cbind(df, as.data.frame(conv))

  if (outclass == 'data.frame') {
    df <- as.data.frame(df)
  } else if (outclass == 'spdf') {
    df <- SpatialPointsDataFrame(conv, df, proj4string = conv@proj4string@projargs)


Estimate a number of different movement parameters based on timestamped XY data. These parameters are used in many different models of animal movement. For meaningful estimates it is best to convert to a UTM or other metric projection. The input is:

  1. x – the x coordinate.
  2. y – the y coordinate.
  3. timestamped – the timestamp associated with the XY coordinates.
  4. dat – specify the data.frame or data.table to add the movement parameters to, this is optional.
  5. isPOSIXct – whether or not the timestamp is of class POSIXct, if not it’ll be converted. For best results the text format should be a character string as “YYYY-MM-DD HH:MM:SS”.
moveParams <- function(x, y, timestamp, dat = NULL, isPOSIXct = TRUE) {
  if (isPOSIXct == FALSE) {
    timestamp <- fasttime::fastPOSIXct(timestamp)
  dist <- c(0, sqrt((x[-1] - x[-length(x)])**2 +
                      (y[-1] - y[-length(y)])**2))
  nsd <- (x - x[1])**2 + (y - y[1])**2
  dt <- c(0, unclass(timestamp[-1]) - unclass(timestamp[-length(timestamp)]))
  speed <- (dist / 1000) / (dt / 3600)
  speed[1] <- 0

  z <- x + (0 +1i) * y
  phi <- c(0, Arg(diff(z)))
  theta <- c(0, diff(phi))

  vp <- speed * cos(theta)
  vt <- speed * sin(theta)

  params <- data.frame(cbind(dist, nsd, dt, speed, phi, theta, vp, vt))

  if (is.null(dat) == TRUE) {
  } else {
    dat$timestamp <- timestamp
    return(cbind(dat, params))


A simple function to plot an animal trajectory. Takes X and Y coordinates as input and uses base graphics to plot the trajectory. The green and red circle indicate the beginning and end of the trajectory.

plotTraj <- function(x, y) {
  plot(x, y, asp = 1, type = 'o', pch = 19, cex = .5, col = rgb(0, 0, 0, .2))
  points(x[1], y[1], col = 'green', pch = 19, cex = 1.25)
  points(x[length(x)], y[length(y)], col = 'red', pch = 19, cex = 1.25)


Another simple function to plot the animal trajectory in 3D. Specify a Z value and value for the color. When plotted the figure will spin, and is interactive.

plot3DTraj <- function(x, y, z, colval) {
  myColorRamp <- function(colors, values) {
    v <- (values - min(values)) / diff(range(values))
    x <- colorRamp(colors)(v)
    return(rgb(x[, 1], x[, 2], x[, 3], maxColorValue = 255))
  if ('POSIXct' %in% class(colval)) {
    colval <- 1:length(colval)
  xyPanel <- min(z, na.rm = T) - 10

  cols <- myColorRamp(c('purple', 'springgreen', 'yellow'), colval)

  plot3d(x, y, z, type = 'l', col = 'darkgrey')
  plot3d(x, y, z, type = 'p', col = cols, add = T, size = 5)
  plot3d(x, y, xyPanel, type = 'l', col = 'lightgrey', add = T)

  play3d(spin3d(rpm = 3), duration = 20)


A randomly sampled animal trajectory. There are 500 rows and 3 fields:

  1. long_x – longitude coordinate
  2. lat_y – latitude coordinate
  3. timestamp – character of the date/time the coordinates were taken (YYYY-MM-DD HH:MM:SS)

Future work

The immediate goal is to provide a framework for more complex movement analysis, including the estimation of home ranges and segmenting trajectories based on behavior.


I’ve stopped using data.table package as it is a new syntax that needs to be learned.

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