New Zealand Journal of Ecology (2015) 39(1): 143- 152

The GPS craze: six questions to address before deciding to deploy GPS technology on wildlife

Forum Article
A. David M. Latham 1*
M. Cecilia Latham 1
Dean P. Anderson 1
Jen Cruz 1
Dan Herries 2
Mark Hebblewhite 3
  1. Landcare Research, PO Box 69040, Lincoln 7640, New Zealand
  2. Department of Conservation, PO Box 644, Napier 4110, New Zealand
  3. Wildlife Biology Program, College of Forestry and Conservation, University of Montana, Missoula, MT 59812, USA
*  Corresponding author

GPS and satellite technology for studies on wildlife have improved substantially over the past decade. It is now possible to collect fine-scale location data from migratory animals, animals that have previously been too small to deploy GPS devices on, and other difficult-to-study species. Often researchers and managers have formatted well-defined ecological or conservation questions prior to deploying GPS on animals, whereas other times it is arguably done simply because the technology is now available to do so. We review and discuss six important interrelated questions that should be addressed when planning a study requiring location data. Answers will clarify whether GPS technology is required and whether its use would increase efficiency of data collection and learning from location data. Specifically, what are the required: (1) ecological question(s); (2) frequency and duration of data collection; (3) sample size; (4) hardware (VHF or GPS or satellite) and accessories; (5) environmental data; and (6) data-management and analysis procedures? This approach increases the chance that the appropriate technology will be deployed, budgets will be realistic, and data will be sufficient (but not excessive) to answer the ecological questions of interest. The expected results are important advances in ecological science and evidence-based management decisions.