Is GPS telemetry location error screening beneficial?

24 February 2017

Ironside, Kirsten; Mattson, David; Arundel, Terence; Hansen, Jered

The accuracy of Global Positioning System (GPS) locations obtained from study animals tagged with GPS monitoring devices has been a concern as to the degree it influences assessments of movement patterns, space use, and resource selection estimates. Many methods have been proposed for screening data to retain the most accurate positions for analysis, based on dilution of precision (DOP) measures, and whether the position is a two dimensional or three dimensional fix. Here we further explore the utility of these measures, by testing a Telonics GEN3 GPS collar’s positional accuracy across a wide range of environmental conditions. We found the relationship between location error and fix dimension and DOP metrics extremely weak (r2adj ~ 0.01) in our study area. Environmental factors such as topographic exposure, canopy cover, and vegetation height explained more of the variance (r2adj = 15.08%). Our field testing covered sites where sky-view was so limited it affected GPS performance to the degree fix attempts failed frequently (fix success rates ranged 0.00-100.00% over 67 sites). Screening data using PDOP did not effectively reduce the location error in the remaining dataset. Removing two dimensional fixes reduced the mean location error by 10.95 meters, but also resulted in a 54.50% data reduction. Therefore screening data under the range of conditions sampled here would reduce information on animal movement with minor improvements in accuracy and potentially introduce bias towards more open terrain and vegetation.