Effects of Global Positioning System Collar Weight on Zebra Behavior and Location Error




ABSTRACT  Global Positioning System (GPS) collars are increasingly being used to study fine-scale patterns of animal behavior. Previous studies on GPS collars have tried to determine the causes of location error without attempting to investigate whether the accuracy of fixes provides a correspondingly accurate measure of the animal's natural behavior. When comparing 2 types of GPS collar, we found a significant effect of collar weight and fit on the rate of travel of plains zebra (Equus burchelli antiquorum) females in the Makgadikgadi, Botswana. Although both types of collar were well within accepted norms of collar weight, the slightly heavier collars (0.6% of total body mass [TBM]) reduced rate of travel by >50% when foraging compared with the collar that was 0.4% of TBM. Collar effect was activity specific, particularly interfering with grazing behavior; the effect was less noticeable when zebras crossed larger interpatch distances. We highlight that small differences in collar weight or fit can affect specific behaviors, limiting the extrapolation of fine-scaled GPS data. This has important implications for wildlife biologists, who hitherto have assumed that collars within accepted weight limits have little or no effect on animal movement parameters.