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GPS Technology for semi-aquatic turtle research

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Cochrane, Madaline M.; Brown, Donald J.; Moen, Ron A.

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Global positioning system (GPS) telemetry units are now small enough to be deployed on terrestrial and semi-aquatic turtles. Many of these GPS units use snapshot technology which collects raw satellite and timestamp data during brief periods of data recording to minimize size. We evaluated locations from snapshot GPS units in stationary tests and on wood turtles (Glyptemys insculpta) in northeastern Minnesota. Stationary GPS units were placed in wood turtle habitat to evaluate location accuracy, fix success rate, and directional bias. The GPS fix success rate and accuracy were reduced in closed canopy conditions and when the stationary GPS unit was placed under a log to simulate wood turtle hiding behavior. We removed GPS location outliers and used a moving average calculation to reduce mean location error in stationary tests from 27 m (SD = 38) to 10 m (SD = 8). We then deployed GPS units and temperature loggers on wood turtles and collected 122,657 GPS locations and 242,781 temperature readings from 26 turtles from May to September 2015 and 2016. Location outliers accounted for 12% of locations when the GPS receiver was on a turtle. We classified each wood turtle location based on the GPS location and by comparing temperature profiles from river, sun, and shaded locations to the temperature logger on the turtle. We estimated that wood turtles were on land 68% (SD = 12) of the time from May to September. The fix success rate for land locations was 38% (SD = 9), indicating that wood turtles often use habitats with obstructed views of the sky. Mean net daily movement was 55 m (SD = 192). Our results demonstrate that snapshot GPS units and temperature loggers provide fine-scale GPS data useful in describing spatial ecology and habitat use of semi-aquatic turtles.


fix success rate; GPS technology; location error; Minnesota; reptile; stationary tests; temperature; wood turtle (Glyptemys insculpta)


Cochrane, Madaline M.; Brown, Donald J.; Moen, Ron A. 2019. GPS Technology for semi-aquatic turtle research. Diversity. 11(3): 34. 16 p.

Last updated on: March 7, 2019