Implications of location accuracy and data volume for home range estimation and fine-scale movement analysis: comparing Argos and Fastloc-GPS tracking data


The advent of Fastloc-GPS is helping to transform marine animal tracking by allowing the collection of high-quality location data for species that surface only briefly. We show how the improved location accuracy of Fastloc-GPS compared to Argos tracking is expected to lead to far more accurate home range estimates, particularly for animals moving over the scale of a few km. We reach this conclusion using simulated data and home range estimates derived from empirical tracking data for green sea turtles (Chelonia mydas) equipped with Argos linked Fastloc-GPS tags at three different foraging areas (western Indian Ocean, Western Australia, and Caribbean). Poor-quality Argos locations (e.g., location classes A, B) produced home range estimates ranging from 10 to 100 times larger than those derived from Fastloc-GPS data, whereas high-quality Argos locations (location classes 1–3) produced home range estimates that were generally comparable to those derived from Fastloc-GPS data. However, the limited number of Argos class 1–3 locations obtained for all three turtles—an average of 14.6 times more Fastloc-GPS locations were obtained compared to Argos class 1–3 locations—resulted in blurred patterns of space use. In contrast, the high volume of Fastloc-GPS locations revealed fine-scale movements in striking detail (i.e., use of discrete patches separated by just a few 100 m). We recommend careful consideration of the effects of location accuracy and data volume when developing sampling regimes for marine tracking studies and make recommendations regarding how sampling can be standardized to facilitate meaningful spatial and temporal comparisons of space use.

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We thank the Department of Parks and Wildlife, Western Australia for their assistance in deploying satellite tags in Shark Bay. Fieldwork in Bonaire was funded by the Netherlands Organization of Scientific Research (NWO-ALW 858.14.090). We thank Sea Turtle Conservation Bonaire for their assistance in deploying satellite tags in Bonaire. Fieldwork in the Chagos Archipelago was supported by a Darwin Initiative Challenge Fund Grant (EIDCF008), the Department of the Environment Food and Rural Affairs, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, College of Science of Swansea University, and the British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT) Scientific Advisory Group of the FCO. We would like to thank Ernesto and Kirsty Bertarelli, and the Bertarelli Foundation, for their support of this research. We acknowledge and thank the BIOT Administration for assistance and permission to carry out research within the Chagos Archipelago.

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Correspondence to J. A. Thomson.

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All applicable international, national, and/or institutional guidelines for the care and use of animals were followed. Fieldwork in Shark Bay was conducted under Department of Parks and Wildlife (DPaW) Regulation 17 license #SF010887 and Florida International University IACUC approval #IACUC-15-034-CR01. Fieldwork in Bonaire was conducted under a permit from the “Openbaar Lichaam Bonaire” nr. 558/2015-2015007762 and was performed using appropriate animal care protocols. In the Chagos Archipelago, fieldwork was approved by the Commissioner for the BIOT (research permit dated 2 October 2012) and Swansea University Ethics Committee, and complied with all relevant local and national legislation. The authors have no conflicts of interest.

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Thomson, J.A., Börger, L., Christianen, M.J.A. et al. Implications of location accuracy and data volume for home range estimation and fine-scale movement analysis: comparing Argos and Fastloc-GPS tracking data. Mar Biol 164, 204 (2017).

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