The use of very high frequency (VHF) radio-telemetry remains wide-spread in studies of wildlife ecology and management. However, few studies have evaluated the influence of vegetative obstruction on accuracy in differing habitats with varying transmitter types and heights. Using adult and fawn collars at varying heights above the ground (0, 33, 66 and 100 cm) to simulate activities (bedded, feeding and standing) and ages (neonate, juvenile and adult) of deer Odocoileus spp., we collected 5,767 bearings and estimated 1,424 locations (28-30 for each of 48 subsamples) in three habitat types (pasture, grassland and forest), during two stages of vegetative growth (spring and late summer). Bearing error was approximately twice as large at a distance of 900 m for fawn (9.9°) than for adult deer collars (4.9°). Of 12 models developed to explain the variation in location error, the analysis of covariance model (HT*D C*D HT*TBA C*TBA) containing interactions of height of collar above ground (HT), collar type (C), vertical height of understory vegetation (D) and tree basal area (TBA) was the best model (wi = 0.92) and explained ∼ 71% of the variation in location error. Location error was greater for both collar types at 0 and 33 cm above the ground compared to 66 and 100 cm above the ground; however, location error was less for adult than fawn collars. Vegetation metrics influenced location error, which increased with greater vertical height of understory vegetation and tree basal area. Further, interaction of vegetation metrics and categorical variables indicated significant effects on location error. Our results indicate that researchers need to consider study objectives, life history of the study animal, signal strength of collar (collar type), distance from transmitter to receiver, topographical changes in elevation, habitat composition and season when designing telemetry protocols. Bearing distances in forested habitat should be decreased (approximately 23% in our study) compared to bearing distances in open habitat to maintain a consistent bearing error across habitats. Additionally, we believe that field biologists monitoring neonate ungulates for habitat selection should rely on visual locations rather than using VHF-collars and triangulation.
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Vol. 19 • No. 1