Electronic tracking tag programming is critical to data collection for behavioural time-series analysis

Open Access Peer Reviewed Publication 2011


Electronic tracking tags are major tools of ecological research and management, but programming sophisticated tags can be challenging. We discovered that a common programming scheme can negatively affect the quality of tracks collected by Argos tags. Here we describe the problem and how it occurred. We then simulated a series of tracks with different data collection schemes to investigate how spatial precision and temporal frequency affect the overall quality of tracking data. Tracks were simulated using a two-state composite correlated random walk (CCRW). Tracks were simulated with two spatial scales, using parameters estimated from northern elephant seal (large scale) and California sea lion (small scale) tracking data. Onto each simulated track, observations of varying precision, frequency, and censoring were imposed. We then fit the CCRW in a state-space model (SSM) to the simulated observations in order to assess how data quality and frequency affected recovery of known behavioral state and location. We show that when movement scales are small, regular observations were critical to recover behavior and location. In addition, tracks with frequent regular locations (increasing N) overcame low spatial accuracy (e.g., Argos) to detect small-scale movement patterns, suggesting frequently collected Argos locations may be as good as infrequently collected GPS in some circumstances. From these results and our experience tracking animals generally, we produce a set of guidelines for those manufacturing, programming, and deploying electronic tracking tags to maximize the utility of the data they produce.

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