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Evaluation of a telemetry system for measuring habitat usage in mountainous terrain

, : Evaluation of a telemetry system for measuring habitat usage in mountainous terrain. Northwest Science 61(4): 249-256

Telemetry, the use of radio-transmitters to follow wildlife, has enjoyed popularity and widespread use because it can generate much animal location and activity data in a limited time. When animals locations are estimated by triangulation based on angle of signals received, rather than on visual contact, it becomes important to understand equipment limitations that may influence the accuracy of signal origin estimation. Problems of estimating signal origin are magnified in mountainous terrain by signal reflection. We tested directional accuracy of a precision-null antenna system in mountainous terrain of northcentral Colorado [USA]. Statistical tolerance limits applied to a two-wavelength system with two, three-element antennas, separated by two wavelengths, gave measurement error of no more than .+-. (at least 90 percent of the time) at the 90 percent confidence level based on a mean of four readings per transmitting site, taken in rapid succession. A precision-null antenna system was found superior to a one-wavelength antenna type. Signal quality and accuracy in determination of signal directionality decreased with increased height of terrain obstacles between transmitter and receiver. Transmitter-receiver distance up to 4.6 km (the maximum tested) accounted for only eight percent of the variation in direction accuracy. Signal quality categories are described which can assist an operator in judging relative directional accuracy of received telemetry signals. A new approach to determining habitat usage by instrumented animals is described which utilizes composition of each vegetation type occurring in error polygons to reflect probability that the transmitter is located within a given vegetation type.

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