Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
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Distinguishing technology from biology: a critical review of the use of GPS telemetry data in ecology

    In the past decade, ecologists have witnessed vast improvements in our ability to collect animal movement data through animal-borne technology, such as through GPS or ARGOS systems. However, more data does not necessarily yield greater knowledge in understanding animal ecology and conservation. In this paper, we provide a review of the major benefits, problems and potential misuses of GPS/Argos technology to animal ecology and conservation. Benefits are obvious, and include the ability to collect fine-scale spatio-temporal location data on many previously impossible to study animals, such as ocean-going fish, migratory songbirds and long-distance migratory mammals. These benefits come with significant problems, however, imposed by frequent collar failures and high cost, which often results in weaker study design, reduced sample sizes and poorer statistical inference. In addition, we see the divorcing of biologists from a field-based understanding of animal ecology to be a growing problem. Despite these difficulties, GPS devices have provided significant benefits, particularly in the conservation and ecology of wide-ranging species. We conclude by offering suggestions for ecologists on which kinds of ecological questions would currently benefit the most from GPS/Argos technology, and where the technology has been potentially misused. Significant conceptual challenges remain, however, including the links between movement and behaviour, and movement and population dynamics.

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