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Journal of Applied
Ecology 2001
38, 869 878

INNOVATIONS

Oxford,
Journal
JAPPL
British
320021-8901
38
GPS
624
I.A.R.
001
Blackwell
forHulbert
Ecological
of
UK
telemetry
Applied
Science,
& J.Society,
and
Ecology
French
Ltdmapping
2001

Graphicraft Limited, Hong Kong


000

The accuracy of GPS for wildlife telemetry and


habitat mapping
IAN A.R. HULBERT* and JOHN FRENCH
*Scottish Agricultural College, Hill and Mountain Research Centre, Food Systems Division, Kirkton Farm,
Crianlarich, West Perthshire FK20 8RU, UK; and Mariner Radar, Department of Zoology, University of Aberdeen,
Aberdeen AB9 2TN, UK

Summary
1. Decision support tools used for vegetation management require accurate information on the spatial array of different plant communities and a herbivores grazing
location. We tested the accuracy and precision of locations derived using the satellite
navigation global positioning system (GPS).
2. Before May 2000, the accuracy and precision of GPS-derived locations were degraded
by a process known as selective availability (SA); after May 2000, SA was disabled. In
this study we investigated how to handle and improve the quality of data generated both
when SA was enabled and when SA was disabled using relative GPS (rGPS). rGPS
entails the post-processed correction of the roving GPS module with simultaneously
acquired positional errors recorded at a known stationary reference location.
3. With SA enabled, GPS data were obtained at a fixed known location to obtain
baseline information, and from a roving module that essentially mimicked surveying
techniques or the movement of a free-ranging animal. The mean accuracy of GPS with
SA enabled was 21 m for the fixed module and 25 m for the roving module. Use of rGPS
and further manipulation of the data improved the mean accuracy of the data to 7 m for
the fixed module and 10 m for the roving module. With SA disabled, data were similarly
recorded from the fixed known location and resulted in a mean location accuracy of
5 m. The use of rGPS resulted in a significant improvement of this value to 36 m and
precision measured by the 95% quantile was < 10 m. For mapping and wildlife tracking,
such quality in terms of location accuracy and precision is unprecedented and demonstrates that rGPS may still be useful in many applications.
4. GPS enables the world-wide collection of accurate and precise location information
at 1-second intervals. Furthermore, by programming the GPS receiver to overdetermine
location by using information from all visible satellites, many of the limitations that
arise in habitats or environments with a limited view of the sky may be overcome.
5. With SA now disabled, the potential use of GPS will increase. With further miniaturization, surveying of remote featureless landscapes or the tracking of crepuscular or
far-ranging animals will become more accurate and more quantifiable than ever before.
Key-words: GPS, mapping, selective availability, surveying, telemetry, wildlife studies.
Journal of Applied Ecology (2001) 38, 869878

Introduction
Decision support tools are increasingly being used to
manage land resources and make land-use policy

2001 British
Ecological Society

Correspondence: Dr Ian A.R. Hulbert, Scottish Agricultural


College, Hill and Mountain Research Centre, Food Systems
Division, Kirkton Farm, Crianlarich, West Perthshire FK20 8RU,
UK (fax +44 (0) 1838 400248; e-mail i.hulbert@au.sac.ac.uk).

(Armstrong et al. 1997a,b; Weber et al. 1998). Such


tools require accurate information on grazing location,
vegetation utilization and the availability of plant communities (Hester & Baillie 1998; Hester et al. 1998),
which are fundamental to understanding the foraging
behaviour of free-ranging herbivores (Gordon 1995).
Without such information, hypotheses may be falsely
accepted or rejected, resulting in poor land-use decisions. However, the collection of behavioural data from

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I.A.R. Hulbert
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2001 British
Ecological Society,
Journal of Applied
Ecology, 38,
869878

individual animals by direct observation is difficult


because a substantial proportion of daily foraging
occurs between dusk and dawn or out of sight of the
observer (Hulbert et al. 1996; McConnell et al. 1999),
while accurate mapping in featureless terrain is impossible (Gooding et al. 1997). Applying the satellite
navigation global positioning system (GPS) to obtain
accurate location information provides an excellent
opportunity to overcome many of the problems associated with traditional radio-telemetric or mapping
techniques (Harris et al. 1990; Gooding et al. 1997).
The potential accuracy of GPS locations is considered to be < 1 m (Capaccio et al. 1997) but, until May
2000, their accuracy was downgraded by a process
known as selective availability (SA), whereby signal
errors were intentionally induced by the US Department of Defense (Hurn 1989). Consequently, either
uncorrected GPS or post-processed differential GPS
(Morgan-Owen & Johnston 1995) were conventionally
used in mapping or wildlife studies (Moen et al. 1996;
Edenius 1997; Moen, Pastor & Cohen 1997; Rempel &
Rodgers 1997; Webster & Cardina 1997). The location
error of uncorrected GPS was between 20 m and 80 m
(Rempel et al. 1995; Rempel & Rodgers 1997; Brseth
& Pederesen 2000), but could be improved by establishing a reference station at a known location that ran
concurrently with the roving GPS receiver. Known as
differential GPS, both the reference station and roving
module recorded errors in time and hence distance
(pseudoranges) between the GPS receiver and from all
visible satellites. Using the data recorded at the reference station, the error in location at the roving module
could be corrected and SA almost entirely removed
from the roving GPS module. The location error of
post-processed differential GPS varied between 4 m
and 8 m (Rempel & Rodgers 1997; Moen, Pastor &
Cohen 1997).
An alternative technique, using post-processed correction of the spatial error and storing dated and timed
resolved locations using information from all visible
satellites, can reduce analytical complexity and aid the
miniaturization of the GPS modules for wildlife studies.
A reference station is established at a fixed known
location, and spatial differences between the GPS location recorded at the reference station and its known
true location are logged. The resultant planimetric
error recorded at the reference station is then removed
at a later date from the location data received at the corresponding times by the roving GPS module (Caesar
et al. 1999). One further advantage of this process,
known as relative GPS (rGPS), is that instrument error,
site error and signal path error can be accounted for
(Rockwell 1996). None of these errors are generated by
SA and consequently are not considered when a location is derived using uncorrected or differential GPS.
We have demonstrated how data generated by rGPS
can be handled. We examined and compared the
accuracy (closeness to true location) and precision
( proportion of locations within a predefined quantile)

(Hulbert, in press) of GPS with SA enabled. Location


data were collected at a fixed known location in an
open mountainous environment with a clear uninterrupted view of the sky, to enable the establishment of
baseline information against which further studies
could be compared. The trial was repeated from multiple
known locations within the same open mountainous
landscape, and essentially replicated the conditions
experienced by a GPS module fitted to a free-ranging
medium-sized animal or used for rapid surveying.
Indeed, this second test probably gives a more realistic
assessment of the performance to be expected in wildlife telemetric or mapping applications.
From 05.00 GMT on 2 May 2000, SA was discontinued, although it can still be re-enabled by the US
Department of Defense in times of crisis until 2006
(Lawler 2000). Therefore, we examined the improvement in the accuracy without SA and tested whether
the use of rGPS could still be considered as a valid tool
in further improving GPS accuracy and precision. Our
aim was to produce a quantitative assessment of GPS
for wildlife telemetry and mapping applications for use
in applied ecological research.

Study area and methods



The accuracy, precision and performance of uncorrected GPS with SA enabled, rGPS with SA enabled,
GPS with SA disabled and rGPS with SA disabled
(henceforth known as GPS-SA mode, rGPS-SA mode,
GPS mode and rGPS mode, respectively) were assessed
in an unwooded mountainous landscape at Scottish
Agricultural College (SAC)s Hill and Mountain
Research Centre in West Perthshire, Scotland (437W,
5627N). Apart from the data collected after SA was
officially disabled, SA was fully functional at all times
during this trial.
The GPS hardware used at the reference station and
in the roving module were identical and consisted of 5-volt
Jupiter (12 channel) receivers from Rockwell Collins
(Cedar Rapids, IA), each programmed to calculate a
location from as many visible satellites as possible
(known as overdetermination) up to a maximum of 12.
It was important that the roving and reference station
receivers were identical as each manufacturer uses a
slightly different algorithm or processing technique,
which affects the instantaneous scatter presented at the
output. Receivers from a variety of manufacturers were
tested and all were of suitable quality. However, small
size, availability, power consumption and the knowledge
that Rockwell Collins was one of the prime contractors
for the GPS system influenced the choice (J. French,
unpublished information). Each receiver was equipped
with a pre-amplified microstrip patch (active) antenna
from Foruno Electric Company (Ashiharacho, Nishinomiya City, Japan), a microprocessor controller and
a real time calendar/clock. The GPS components and

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GPS for telemetry
and mapping

antenna used in the tests were identical to those


encapsulated in an 850-g GPS collar (Mariner Radar
Ltd, Aberdeen University, UK) and fitted to sheep
(Hulbert et al. 1998). A notebook computer was used
to programme the receiver and either the same notebook or an onboard 1-MB memory card was used to
store the downloaded data. Data fields collected by the
GPS modules included: time in hours, minutes and
seconds; latitude and longitude in degrees, minutes and
decimal fraction; horizontal dilution of precision
( HDOP); and number of satellites available and used
to calculate a location. Only satellites 15 above the
horizon were selected to calculate a position.
A GPS-receiving reference station in continuous
operation was established at a fixed location 2 km
south of the study site. The active antenna was placed
15 m above ground level with a clear 360 view of the
sky. A daily file of spatial location errors relative to true
location was recorded at 1-second intervals so that corrections could be applied to the data collected by the
field GPS modules. The true location of the reference
station was established from the digital Ordnance Survey (1997) Land-Line map (Moorland Series) of the
study area using the geographical information system
(GIS) PC MapInfo Professional V4 (MapInfo Inc.,
New York, USA). The relative accuracy for the
Moorland Series of digital maps is 389 m (Ordnance
Survey 1997).

:

HDOP, accuracy and precision of GPS in GPS-SA
mode and rGPS-SA mode were assessed from data collected continuously at 5-second intervals at a fixed
location over a 24-h period on 2728 October 1998.
The GPS receiver, 5-volt power supply and memory
card were encased within a water-tight clear Perspex box
(40 25 25 cm) and placed at an accessible location
(ST1) on the mountainside. The location of ST1 relative
to the reference station was established by conventional
geodetic surveying techniques, using a surveyors total
station (Topcon model GTS 4B) that had an accuracy
of less than 23 m in the prevailing environment
(Bannister, Raymond & Baker 1992; Gooding et al. 1997).

: ,
-

2001 British
Ecological Society,
Journal of Applied
Ecology, 38,
869 878

HDOP, accuracy and precision of a roving GPS


module in GPS-SA mode and rGPS-SA mode were
assessed on 27 August 1998 from 114 different survey
points (SP1114) in the mountains 2 km north of the
Research Centre over an 8-h period. Each consecutive
location was separated by between 10 m and 100 m in
distance and between 60 and 300 seconds in time. The
GPS hardware was unchanged except that a laptop was
used to store the data. Each survey point was visible
from ST1 and therefore the true locations of SP1114

could be determined using the surveyors total station


set up at ST1. A single location was obtained simultaneously at each survey point using the surveyors total
station and the roving GPS.

:

The accuracy and precision of GPS in GPS mode and
rGPS mode were assessed from data collected continuously at 5-second intervals at ST1 over 24 h starting
at 09:00 on 28 September 2000. The GPS hardware and
software used in this test were unchanged from that
used previously. These data were compared against
data collected at 1-second intervals at the reference
station on the 2728 October 1998 when SA was
enabled.


Planimetric error in location recorded at the reference
station was removed from the data recorded at the fixed
and roving GPS modules using post-processing
software (Mariner Radar Ltd). All locations were
converted from latitude and longitude to the Universal
Transverse Mercator (UTM) grid using Microsoft
Excel and the transformation parameters provided
by Ordnance Survey (Ordnance Survey 1998).
Accuracy for both fixed and roving GPS modules
was determined by calculating the Euclidean distance
in metres from the true location and the derived location of the fixed and roving GPS for the eastings and
northings. To meet the requirements of normality,
the distance error from true location was loge(x + 1)
transformed (x = distance in m from true location).
All values reported in the text are back-transformed
values, while in the figures and tables the data and
statistics are presented as loge values.
Raleighs z-statistic tested for bias of the roving GPS
module and whether the locations had a uniform circular distribution around the true location (Zar 1984).
For locations derived when SA was enabled and
disabled, the strength of the relationship between
HDOP and accuracy was analysed for the fixed GPS
module using regression techniques with the number of
satellites available entered as a grouping effect. As
successive locations derived using GPS were nonindependent, a variance component model was fitted
by restricted maximum likelihood (REML) (Robinson
1987) to calculate means and standard errors of difference (SED) for locations derived in all four modes. The
Wald statistic, which has a chi-squared distribution,
was used to test the main effect of mode on accuracy.
Although the SED for pairwise comparisons varied,
for clarity only the mean SED for the primary fixed
effects are presented in the figures. All analysis was conducted using Genstat for Windows V541 (Lawes
Agricultural Trust 1997) and the term significant is
used in its statistical sense (P < 005).

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Table 1. The number and percentage frequency of locations calculated by different satellite combinations at ST1 by the
fixed GPS in GPS-SA mode (SA enabled) for 19 h on 27 October 1998 and in GPS mode (SA disabled) for 23 h on
28 September 2000
GPS-SA mode

GPS mode

Number of satellites used


to calculate a location

Number of
locations

Percentage
frequency

Number of
locations

Percentage
frequency

4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
Total

174
1 038
2 266
4 352
3 120
1 850
815
0
0
13 615

12
76
166
319
229
135
59
0
0
100

61
1 007
3 581
5 731
2 536
1 662
763
295
154
15 790

04
63
227
363
161
105
48
19
10
100

Fig. 1. Latitude in Ordnance Survey northings (units in metres) of the reference station recorded at 1-second intervals and plotted
against time for a 5000-second window on 27 October 1998. Latitude of fixed GPS at ST1 in GPS-SA mode and rGPS-SA mode
at 5-second intervals plotted against the same 5000-second time interval. The true location of fixed GPS at ST1 as recorded by
Total Survey Station is included for reference. The number of satellites used to calculate a location are recorded on the right hand
axis (the latitude of the reference station has had an offset included for ease of presentation).

Results
:

2001 British
Ecological Society,
Journal of Applied
Ecology, 38,
869878

In total, 13 615 locations were recorded at 5-second


intervals by the fixed GPS module at the known location ST1. Almost 19 h of data were recorded continuously between 16:45 on 27 October 1998 through to
11:40 on 28 October 1998. During the same period,
69 075 locations were recorded at 1-second intervals at
the reference station. The mean number of satellites used
by the fixed GPS at ST1 was 73 (range 410), while the

mean number of satellites used to calculate a location


at the reference station was 77 (range 411; Table 1).
Latitude, longitude (in Ordnance Survey grid
northings and eastings, respectively) and the number
of satellites used to calculate a location were plotted
separately against time for data acquired at the
reference station and for data acquired by the fixed
GPS at ST1 in GPS-SA mode and rGPS-SA mode,
respectively (e.g. 5000 seconds of data for latitude in
Fig. 1). Although post-processed planimetric correction (rGPS-SA mode) brought a large proportion of
latitudinal and longitudinal coordinates at ST1 to

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GPS for telemetry
and mapping

Fig. 2. Location error (loge(x + 1)) in metres from true location for GPS-SA mode (n = 13 615), rGPS-SA mode (n = 13 615) and
modified rGPS-SA mode (n = 10 065) plotted against number of satellites used to calculate a location. The number of locations
calculated for each satellite combination is included on the figure. Equivalent back-transformed location error in metres is
plotted on the right-hand axis.

within 10 m of the true position, many locations were


still displaced by tens of metres (Fig. 1; 17 10017 650
seconds). Such displaced locations were caused by
the incorporation of large fluctuations recorded at
the reference station but not witnessed at ST1. The
fluctuations were characterized by sharp changes
in latitudinal or longitudinal distance within a few
seconds and were immediately preceded and followed
by longer periods of instability and did not appear to be
related to changes in the number of satellites used to
calculate a location. Consequently, the locations calculated in rGPS-SA mode were modified by the removal
by eye of all data one half sine wave before and after the
identifiable periods of instability around the intense
fluctuations recorded at the reference station. This
resulted in a loss of 3550 locations from the data set,
representing 26% of the total number of locations
recorded. Henceforth these data are referred to as
modified rGPS-SA mode.

2001 British
Ecological Society,
Journal of Applied
Ecology, 38,
869 878

Although there was a significant linear relationship


between HDOP and distance error for GPS-SA mode
and rGPS-SA mode locations using the fixed GPS at
ST1, predictability was low (GPS-SA mode: F6,13 601 =
378, P < 0001, r2 = 013; rGPS-SA mode: F6,13 601 =
483, P < 0001, r2 = 016). Even if the analysis was
restricted to the 98% (n = 13 615) of locations that had
an HDOP < 3, many points still had low locational error
but high HDOP, while other points had high locational
error and low HDOP. Indeed, in modified rGPS-SA
mode, HDOP did not exceed 188 and the percentage
variance accounted for was 75%. Consequently HDOP
was not considered a satisfactory tool to assist in determining the accuracy of a location and was not used in
any further analysis.

:

Location accuracy improved significantly with increasing numbers of satellites used to calculate a location
(2 = 5949, d.f. = 6, P < 0001; Fig. 2). For each mode
there was up to a fourfold improvement in accuracy
between locations calculated using data from four satellites (< 12% of data set) and those locations calculated using data from five or more satellites. Therefore,
all locations determined using data from four satellites or less were eliminated from further analysis.
Mode had a significant effect upon location accuracy
(2 = 18 425, d.f. = 2, P < 0001). Mean precision in
GPS-SA mode was 206 m and in rGPS-SA mode was
83 m. However, following the removal of the locations
associated with the large fluctuations witnessed at the
reference station, the mean accuracy of locations in
modified rGPS-SA mode was 67 m and the range in
the accuracy of the locations had almost halved
(Table 2). The precision of modified rGPS-SA locations was high, with 70% of locations within 10 m of
the true location and 95% within 22 m (Table 2).

: ,

The mean number of satellites used to calculate a location by the roving GPS module was 65 (n = 114, range
38). Three locations were calculated from information collected from four satellites and were eliminated
from the data set. Location errors at the roving GPS
module were comparable with that observed at the
fixed GPS in continuous operation and there was a significant difference between all three modes (2 = 911,
d.f. = 2, P < 0001; Table 2). Locations calculated in
GPS-SA mode resulted in a mean accuracy of 254 m,
while in rGPS-SA mode locations had a mean accuracy

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Table 2. Location error (loge(x + 1) ) from true location, back-transformed location error in metres from true location and the
median, 70% and 95% quantiles for GPS-SA mode, rGPS-SA mode and modified rGPS-SA mode for the fixed and roving GPS
modules. Only locations using five or more satellites to calculate a location are included. For each GPS module, values with unlike
subscripts are significantly different (P < 005)
Fixed GPS module

GPS-SA
Mean loge(x + 1)
Mean back transformed
70%
95%
Range (m)
n

Roving GPS module

rGPS-SA

3073a
2228b
206
83
30
12
55
32
03 129
03 112
13 441
13 441
Mean SED for loge(x + 1) = 0016

Modified
rGPS-SA
2053c
67
10
22
03 58
9891

GPS-SA

rGPS-SA

Modified
rGPS-SA

3276a
2540b
2361b
254
116
96
37
18
13
64
58
40
2 84
187
164
111
111
71
Mean SED for loge(x + 1) = 0103

Fig. 3. Location of roving GPS plotted against a common origin for (a) GPS-SA mode, (b) rGPS-SA mode and (c) modified
rGPS-SA mode. Locations obtained with a satellite availability of 5 over an 8-h period. n = 111 for GPS-SA and rGPS-SA mode
while n = 71 for modified rGPS-SA mode.

2001 British
Ecological Society,
Journal of Applied
Ecology, 38,
869878

of 116 m. Once again, latitude and longitude were


plotted against time and all data one half sine wave
before and after the identifiable periods of instability
around the intense fluctuations recorded at the reference station were removed from the data set. This
resulted in the removal of 40 locations (36% of the data
set) but the error of locations calculated in modified
relative mode was further improved and had a mean
accuracy of 96 m (n = 71). The precision of locations

determined by the roving GPS module was not as high


as that for the fixed GPS module. Seventy per cent of
locations in modified mode were within 13 m of the
true location, while 95% of locations were within 40 m
(Table 2).
The locations derived by the roving GPS for each
survey point were plotted against a common origin. In
GPS-SA mode, locations were uniformly distributed
around the common origin of all 111 survey points

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GPS for telemetry
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Table 3. Location error (loge(x + 1) ) from true location, back-transformed location error in metres from true location and the
median, 70% and 95% quantiles for GPS-SA mode, GPS mode and rGPS mode for the fixed GPS module. In GPS-SA mode and
GPS mode, locations are derived from all satellite combinations, but in rGPS mode only locations using five or more satellites are
included. Values with unlike subscripts/superscripts are significantly different (P < 005)
Mode

Mean loge(x + 1)
Mean back transformed
95%
Range (m)
n
Mean SED

GPS-SA

GPS

rGPS

3075a
206
569
03 320
13 615
GPS-SA /GPS mode = 00068
GPS/rGPS mode = 00056

179 ab
50
118
03 16
15 790

153b
36
84
0313
15 729

(Raleighs z111 = 09, P > 02; Fig. 3a). However, following correction for the planimetric error recorded
at the reference station, there was a significant bias in
the distribution of locations around the origin for
both rGPS-SA mode and modified rGPS-SA mode
(rGPS-SA mode: Raleighs z111 = 140, P < 005; modified rGPS-SA mode: Raleighs z71 = 167, P < 005;
Fig. 3b,c). Many more locations were concentrated
immediately south-west of the common origin for the
survey points, although there were several outliers
north-east of the common origin.

2001 British
Ecological Society,
Journal of Applied
Ecology, 38,
869 878

In total, 16 501 locations were recorded at 5-second


intervals by the fixed GPS at ST1 starting at 09:00 on
28 September 2000, resulting in almost 23 h of data.
During the same period 82 495 locations were recorded
at 1-second intervals at the reference station. The mean
number of satellites used to calculate a location was 73,
which was similar to that when SA was enabled (76),
although the range in the number of satellites used to
calculate a location was greater (range 312; Table 1).
Disablement of SA resulted in a significant fourfold
improvement in location accuracy and precision over
those derived when SA was enabled. Mean accuracy of
locations derived in GPS-SA mode regardless of satellite availability was 206 m, while mean accuracy of
locations derived in GPS mode was 50 m (2 = 34 427,
d.f. = 1, P < 0001; Table 3). Although there was a
significant linear relationship between HDOP and
distance error for GPS mode, predictability was low
and the use of HDOP was not considered a useful tool
in validating location data (F9,15 779 = 7414, P < 0001,
r2 = 008). As previously when SA was enabled,
location accuracy and precision were significantly
improved with greater satellite availability ( 2 = 6130,
d.f. = 9, P < 0001), and all locations derived from data
obtained from fewer than five satellites were removed
from further analysis (< 05% of locations). Similarly,
as for when SA was enabled, latitude, longitude (in
Ordnance Survey grid northings and eastings, respect-

ively) and the number of satellites used to calculate a


location were plotted against time for data acquired at
the reference station and for data acquired by the fixed
GPS at ST1 in GPS mode (Fig. 4). Although the errors
involved were a fraction of those when SA was enabled,
there were still large instantaneous fluctuations (> 6 m)
relative to mean accuracy. Such planimetric errors
could still be removed from the data acquired in GPS
mode and consequently led to a further significant
improvement in rGPS mode with a mean accuracy of
36 m (2 = 2065, d.f. = 1, P < 0001) and a precision
with a 95% quantile < 10 m (Table 3).

Discussion

The presence of SA had a significant and deleterious
impact on the accuracy and precision of GPS locations.
Indeed, without correcting for planimetric error, satellite availability or modifying the data set, mean accuracy and the 95% quantile in GPS-SA mode was more
than four times greater than that obtained when SA
was disabled (GPS mode), while the range in location
error was 20 times greater. Now that SA is disabled, the
application of GPS to determine location accurately is
at a level previously unavailable to the civilian user
without complex or expensive equipment (Hurn 1989;
Capaccio et al. 1997). Nevertheless, SA can potentially
be reactivated (Lawler 2000) and for all those locations derived before SA was disabled, robust techniques in data management are required to overcome
inaccuracies.
As others have noted (Edenius 1997; Moen, Pastor
& Cohen 1997; Rempel & Rodgers 1997), we have demonstrated that, regardless of SA, the use of HDOP to
censor locations based on expected error is not worthwhile because of the low predictive ability of the
regressions. Rather, significant improvements in
location quality could be achieved when more satellites
were used to calculate a location (Moen et al. 1996;
Moen, Pastor & Cohen 1997), by extracting the planimetric error recorded at the reference station from the

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Fig. 4. The number of satellites used to calculate a location are recorded on the right-hand axis. Latitude in Ordnance Survey
northings (units in metres) of the reference station recorded at 1-second intervals and plotted against time for a 10 000-second
window on 28 September 2000. Latitude of fixed GPS at ST1 in GPS mode and rGPS mode at 5-second intervals plotted against
the same 10 000-second time interval. The number of satellites used to calculate a location are recorded on the right-hand axis (the
latitude of the reference station has had an offset included for ease of presentation).

mobile GPS units and by evaluating the data visually


and then removing the locations associated with the
large fluctuations in latitude and longitude recorded at
the reference station. Indeed, managing the data in
such a manner with SA enabled resulted in a threefold
improvement in accuracy and precision over uncorrected locations that were only slightly less than that
achieved by differential GPS (Moen et al. 1996; Moen,
Pastor & Cohen 1997; Rempel & Rodgers 1997).
Even after SA was disabled, it was possible to further
improve on the accuracy and precision of locations by
only using locations derived from five or more satellites
and removing planimetric error recorded at the reference
station. Although the mean accuracy was improved by
14 m, more importantly precision measured by the 95%
quantile was less than 10 m. For mapping and wildlife
tracking, such quality in terms of location accuracy
and precision is unprecedented and demonstrates that
rGPS may still be useful in many applications.

2001 British
Ecological Society,
Journal of Applied
Ecology, 38,
869878

Previous telemetric applications of GPS used receivers


that were either only capable of collecting data from a
limited number of visible satellites or determined a
location from the best three or four satellite signals of
those satellites visible (Moen et al. 1996; Moen, Pastor
& Cohen 1997; Caesar et al. 1999; Dussault et al.
1999). In the present study, the 12-channel GPS
receiver modules were programmed to overdetermine
location, and consequently for data collected at ST1

more than 99% of locations were determined from


five or more satellites. Our preliminary trials using 5channel receivers resulted in poor locational accuracy
and precision and it is evident that the ability of the
current generation of 12-channel receivers to overdetermine location resulted in a considerable improvement in
data quality. Previous trials examining the possibility
of removing planimetric error have dismissed the
technique because of inadequate improvements in
accuracy, but such outright rejection may have been
premature as only four satellites were ever used to
calculate a location (Caesar et al. 1999). In closed
environments such as deciduous or coniferous
woodlands or where the view to the sky is poor, the
ability to overdetermine location is therefore a distinct
advantage over other techniques.

Proximity of the reference station to the study site was


not essential but allowed experimentation of errors
that could not be explained by SA. For example, even
after SA was disabled, errors in location of up to 16 m
were still evident and large instantaneous fluctuations
(> 6 m), relative to the mean error in accuracy (5 m),
were still witnessed (Fig. 4) and could not be confidently attributed to satellite availability or any other
measure recorded at the reference station. Evidently
other sources of error, masked when SA was enabled,
now have a major impact on accuracy and precision.

JPE624.fm Page 877 Saturday, July 14, 2001 4:37 PM

877
GPS for telemetry
and mapping

Until SA was disabled, the large instantaneous fluctuations in location observed in Fig. 1 were assumed to
be primarily due to SA but may also have been due to
a variety of additional errors, including errors due to
the receiver itself (Rockwell 1996), topographically
induced errors (Moen et al. 1996; Rempel & Rodgers
1997) or errors due to ionospheric and tropospheric
delays (Rockwell 1996). Although it was not possible to
separate and identify the specific errors conclusively
within this study, the maintenance of a reference station and the recording of planimetric error at a known
location is still advantageous as all these additional
sources of error can be examined and if necessary
removed from any data set. Indeed, although the
impact of multipathing due to topographic reflection
has been considered as a potential source of error in
differential GPS (Rempel & Rodgers 1997), Wells
(1986) suggested that these effects are only likely to be
limiting at higher levels of accuracy, such as that now
expected with SA disabled. As the signal received at the
GPS module is a unique vector sum of a direct signal
and any number of indirect signals (Rockwell 1996),
highly reflective surfaces such as cliffs/mountain ridges
or highly conducting materials such as wet vegetation
may cause interference and reflection from signals
close to the GPS frequency of 1575 MHz. Now that SA
is disabled this issue requires further research to identify the prevalence and magnitude of the problem.

2001 British
Ecological Society,
Journal of Applied
Ecology, 38,
869 878

Overdetermination of location is a valid tool that


results in improved accuracy and precision. Furthermore, the use of a reference station close to the study
site to record planimetric error in location, need not
only be useful when SA is enabled as it provides a
baseline against which the data from roving modules
can be compared and if necessary corrected. However,
considerable time is required to process such data.
When SA was enabled we believe that the c. 60%
increase in accuracy and precision and reduction in
variability (hence reliability) was justified, particularly
in removing the extreme errors witnessed. Obviously
with the much higher accuracies evident now that SA is
disabled, the use of such a technique will depend on the
objectives of the study and data requirements of the
hypothesis being tested. However, even in complex or
heterogeneous habitats, the resolution of the habitat or
plant community map in forested or mountainous
areas is unlikely to be better than 10 m used in GIS
applications (Ordnance Survey 1997). What is important is that the accuracy of the GPS-derived location is
better than the resolution of the map used for tracking
(Harris et al. 1990). Nevertheless, it is clear that the
variability of the system, even though SA is disabled,
must still be tested for each new study. We recommend
that all GPS receivers are benchmarked to test for
instrument error and errors specific to each site before
deployment on animal collars or for mapping.

GPS allows world-wide determination of locations


at 1-second intervals throughout the 24-h cycle regardless of weather. For mapping, laser technology such as
the Total Survey Station used in this study is far more
accurate than that obtainable by GPS in GPS mode or
rGPS mode even after disablement of SA. However,
such technology is limited in that the operational range
is approximately 1500 m and requires at least two people
for its successful use (Gooding et al. 1997). Extreme
difficulties emerge and indeed system failure occurs
when line of sight visualization cannot be maintained.
Consequently, the use of GPS represents a major
advance in mapping techniques available to wildlife
biologists because it is simple to use, cheap, lightweight
and can give instantaneous locational information in
real time. Prior to SA disablement, location precision
while mapping could be improved upon by averaging
locational information obtained over several minutes
and was particularly useful where differential correction
was not utilized (Brseth & Pederesen 2000; Hulbert
in press). However, in the present study, even when
averaged over 23 h and with SA disabled, the best
accuracy that could be achieved in GPS mode was 5 m,
and this demonstrates that the use of rGPS mode
probably represents the best technique yet available
to improve upon current GPS locational information.
For wildlife telemetric applications, daily allweather locations with similar precision and accuracy
are difficult to obtain using conventional radio or satellite (ARGOS) telemetric techniques, and occasionally
filtering techniques are used to reject data that would
require an unrealistic rate of travel between successive
locations (McConnell et al. 1999). Typical radio-triangulation error in similar terrain during ideal weather
conditions is between 27 m and 65 m (Hulbert et al.
1996), while the location accuracy of ARGOS radiotransmitters can be anywhere between 100 m and 4000 m
(Keating 1994; Britten, Kennedy & Ambrose 1999). In
the present study, 95% of locations in modified rGPSSA mode and 100% of locations in GPS mode and
rGPS mode were within the best error expected for
conventional terrestrial radio-telemetric studies. Combined with the added advantage of obtaining rapid
accurate and precise location information at 1-s intervals,
we believe that the use of GPS is a viable alternative and
more quantifiable than conventional radio-telemetric or
rapid surveying techniques ( French & Preide 1992).

Acknowledgements
The study was carried out with financial support from
SERAD and from the Commission of European Communities FAIR programme. We acknowledge the field
assistance of David Rackham, Rod Gooding, Duncan
Robertson and John Holland. Ian Nevison of BIOSS
assisted with the statistics. Ron Moen, Mark Rutter
and an anonymous referee provided many useful comments on the original draft. Digital Land-Line
maps are Ordnance Survey Crown Copyright.

JPE624.fm Page 878 Saturday, July 14, 2001 4:37 PM

878
I.A.R. Hulbert
& J. French

2001 British
Ecological Society,
Journal of Applied
Ecology, 38,
869878

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Received 11 January 2000; revision received 7 February 2001