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ARS Home » Pacific West Area » Boise, Idaho » Northwest Watershed Research Center » Research » Publications at this Location » Publication #187503

Title: An advanced, low cost, GPS-based animal tracking system

item Clark, Pat

Submitted to: Rangeland Ecology and Management
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: 3/12/2006
Publication Date: 5/1/2006
Citation: Clark, P., Johnson, d., Kniep, M., Huttash, B., Wood, A., Johnson, M., McGillivan, C., Titus, K. 2006. An advanced, low-cost, GPS-based animal tracking system. Rangeland Ecology & Management 2006;59:334-340

Interpretive Summary: Commercially-available animal tracking systems do not meet the needs of ecological researchers and natural resource managers. The Clark GPS Animal Tracking System (Clark ATS) was developed to provide sufficient data storage capacity, remote data-downloading and continuous real-time data access to researchers and managers intensively tracking animal behavior of long time periods. Advances incorporated into the Clark ATS allow evaluation of short-term, acute disturbance effects; such as predator encounters, seasonal drought, and other stressors, on animal distribution and activity relative longer-term behavioral patterns. This tracking system also provides a huge time- and cost-savings to researchers and resource managers in contrast to use of existing commercial systems.

Technical Abstract: An improved GPS-based animal tracking system is needed to meet quickly-evolving ecological research and natural resource management demands. Commercially-available tracking systems lack the data storage capacity needed to frequently collect animal location data (e.g., at less than 5-minute intervals) 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), GSM cellular telephone, or telemetry radio frequencies. Satellite systems are excessively expensive and GSM cellular coverage is extremely limited within the U.S. Radio-based systems use narrow-band VHF or UHF frequencies which require FCC licensing. 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 behavior researchers, ecologists, and natural resource managers. The Clark ATS utilizes 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 FCC narrow-band licensing. These radios also transmit, at a user-defined time interval, a real-time, GPS-location beacon to any Clark ATS basestation within range (about 32 km or 20 mi line-of-sight). Advances incorporated into the Clark ATS make it possible to evaluate animal behavior at very fine spatial- and temporal-intensity 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 attempting to relocate a tagged animal in the field for direct observation or other operations.