Hawthorne Beyer

Removing GPS-collar bias in habitat selection studies

Frair, J.L. Nielsen, S.E., Merrill, E.H. Lele, S.R., Boyce, M.S., Munro, R.H.M., Stenhouse, G.B., and Beyer, H.L. 2004. Removing GPS-collar bias in habitat selection studies. Journal of Applied Ecology 41, 201-212.


1. Compared to traditional radio-collars, global positioning system (GPS) collars provide finer spatial resolution and collect locations across a broader range of spatial and temporal conditions. However, data from GPS collars are biased because vegetation and terrain interfere with the satellite signals necessary to acquire a location. Analyses of habitat selection generally proceed without correcting for this known sampling bias. We documented the effects of bias in resource selection functions (RSF) and compared the effectiveness of two bias-correction techniques.

2. The effects of environmental conditions on the probability of a GPS collar collecting a location were modelled for three brands of collar using data collected in 24-h trials at 194 test locations. The best-supported model was used to create GPS-biased data from unbiased animal locations. These data were used to assess the effects of bias given data losses in the range of 10–40% at both 1- and 6-h sampling intensities. We compared the sign, value and significance of coefficients derived using biased and unbiased data.

3. With 6-h locations we observed type II error rates of 30–40% given as little as a 10% data loss. Biased data also produced coefficients that were significantly more negative than unbiased estimates. Increasing the sampling intensity from 6- to 1-h locations eliminated type II errors but increased the magnitude of coefficient bias. No type I errors or changes in sign were observed.

4. We applied sample weighting and iterative simulation given a 30% data loss. For a biased vegetation type, simulation reduced more type II errors than weighting, most probably because the original sample size was re-established. However, selection for areas near trails, which was influenced by a biased vegetation type, showed fewer type II errors after weighting existing animal locations than after simulation. Both techniques corrected 100% and ≥ 80% of the biased coefficients at the 6- and 1-h sampling intensities, respectively.

5. Synthesis and applications. This study demonstrates that GPS error is predictable and biases the coefficients of resource selection models dependant upon the GPS sampling intensity and the level of data loss. We provide effective alternatives for correcting bias and discuss applying corrections under different sampling designs.

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Australian Research Council DECRA Research Fellow

Email: hawthorne -at- spatialecology.com or h.beyer -at- uq.edu.au


ARC Centre of Excellence for Environmental Decisions &

Centre for Biodiversity and Conservation Science &

Environmental Decisions Group,

School of Biological Sciences, Goddard Building

University of Queensland

Brisbane, Queensland 4072 Australia