Global positioning system (GPS) technology has greatly improved the ability to investigate animal ecology at fine spatial and temporal scales but many GPS telemetry-based investigations may be underutilizing the technical capabilities of modern transmitters. We estimated eastern timber wolf (Canis lycaon) movement distance and territory size using variable GPS transmitter sampling frequencies to evaluate the effect of programming details on estimated movement patterns, territory size, and transmitter performance. Estimated movement distance decreased exponentially as sampling frequency was reduced from 1 location every 5 minutes to 1 location every 24 hours, implying that intense sampling frequencies were required for accurate measurement of fine-scale wolf movements. Wolf territory size estimates using 95% minimum convex polygons declined with decreasing sampling frequency, whereas estimates using adaptive kernel methods were comparable across a range of sampling intensities. Estimated transmitter battery longevity increased as the interval between fixes was lengthened but transmitter efficiency, defined as the number of successful fixes obtained during battery lifespan of the transmitter, was highest with fix intervals of intermediate length. Although GPS transmitters are effective for documenting fine-scale movements of animals, we argue their performance is strongly dependent upon transmitter programming and scale of analysis. Effective use of GPS transmitters will require study-specific assessment of the trade-offs between sampling needs versus transmitter efficiency and longevity.
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Vol. 34 • No. 5