Evaluation of a Global Positioning System backpack transmitter for wild turkey research


  • Associate Editor: Christopher K. Williams.


Radiotelemetry is the standard method for monitoring wild turkey (Meleagris gallapavo) movements and habitat use. Spatial data collected using telemetry-based monitoring are frequently inaccurate due to triangulation error. However, new technology, such as Global Positioning Systems (GPS) has increased ecologists' ability to accurately evaluate animal movements and habitat selection. We evaluated the efficacy of micro-GPS backpack units for use on wild turkeys. We tested a micro-GPS developed specifically for avian species that incorporated a GPS antenna with a lightweight rechargeable battery and a very high frequency (VHF) transmitter. We conducted a series of static tests to evaluate performance in varying types of vegetative canopy cover and terrain. After static testing, we deployed micro-GPS on 8 adult male Rio Grande wild turkeys (M. g. intermedia) trapped in south Texas and 2 adult females trapped in the Texas panhandle. Micro-GPS units collected 26,439 locations out of 26,506 scheduled attempts (99.7% fix rate) during static testing. Mean distance error across all static tests was 15.5 m (SE = 0.1). In summer 2009, we recovered micro-GPS from 4 tagged males and both females to evaluate data collection. Units on males acquired approximately 2,500 locations over a 65-day test period (94.5% fix rate). We recovered units from the 2 females after 19 days and 53 days; those units acquired 301 and 837 locations, respectively, for a 96% fix rate. Cost analysis indicated that VHF will be cost effective when 1 location per day is required up to 181 days, but micro-GPS becomes less expensive as frequency of daily locations increases. Our results indicate that micro-GPS have the potential to provide increased reliable data on turkey movement ecology and habitat selection at a higher resolution than conventional VHF telemetric methods. © 2011 The Wildlife Society.