An improved global positioning system (GPS)–based animal tracking system is needed to meet quickly evolving demands of ecological research, range livestock production, and natural resource management. Commercially available tracking systems lack the data storage capacity needed to frequently collect animal location data (e.g., 15-minute intervals or less) over long-term deployment periods (e.g., 1 year or more). Some commercial systems have remote data–download capabilities, reducing the need to recapture tagged animals for data retrieval, but these systems download data via satellite (Argos), global system for mobile communications (GSM) cellular telephone, or telemetry radio frequencies. Satellite systems are excessively expensive, and GSM cellular coverage is extremely limited within the United States. Radio-based systems use narrow-band very-high– or ultra-high frequencies requiring the user to obtain frequency allocations. None of these existing systems were designed to provide continual, real-time data access. The Clark GPS Animal Tracking System (Clark ATS) was developed to meet the evolving demands of animal ethologists, ecologists, natural resource managers, and livestock producers. The Clark ATS uses memory-card technology for expandable data storage from 16 megabytes to 8 gigabytes. Remote data downloading and program uploading is accomplished using spread-spectrum radio transceivers, which do not require narrow-band radio frequency allocations. These radios also transmit, at a user-defined time interval, a real-time, GPS-location beacon to any Clark ATS base station within range (about 24 km or 15 miles line of sight). Advances incorporated into the Clark ATS make it possible to evaluate animal behavior at very fine spatial- and temporal-resolution over long periods of time. The real-time monitoring provided by this system enables researchers to accurately examine animal distribution and activity responses to acute, short-term disturbances relative to longer-term behavioral patterns. The Clark ATS also provides a huge time- and cost-savings to researchers and natural resource managers attempting to relocate a tagged animal in the field for direct observation or other operations.
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Vol. 59 • No. 3