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A Comparison of Home Range Statistics for Woodland Caribou Calculated from GPS and Conventional Radio-Telemetry Locations

Chris J. Johnson, Natural Resources and Environmental Studies, University of Northern British Columbia, 3333 University Way, Prince George, BC V2N 4Z9 Canada, Doug C. Heard, British Columbia Environment, 1011 4th Avenue, Prince George, BC V2L 3H9 Canada, and Katherine L. Parker, Natural Resources and Environmental Studies, University of Northern British Columbia, 3333 University Way, Prince George, BC V2N 4Z9 Canada

The northern woodland caribou ecotype (Rangifer tarandus caribou) has received relatively little management or research attention, but is thought to be increasingly threatened by expanding forestry practices in central and northern British Columbia. We are using a hierarchical research approach to explore habitat selection and movement patterns relative to three spatial scales. Analysis at a micro-habitat scale will identify and explain what forage sites are being selected. At stand and landscape scales, we will use a geographical information system (GIS) to analyze spatial and temporal caribou information in relation to digital habitat maps. One of the limitations of studying animals with relatively large ranges is acquiring accurate and representative location data. Global positioning system (GPS) technology can potentially overcome some of the difficulties associated with conventional radio-telemetry techniques. GPS collars are capable of collecting frequent location data at pre-set intervals regardless of weather conditions or daylight. Ten caribou were captured and fitted with 1.8- or 2.2-kg large mammal GPS collars during 1996-1997. From the first 17 months of GPS location data, we will derive a data subset to represent locations that could have been obtained by conventional telemetry techniques. This assumes one radio-telemetry flight per week, with the day randomly chosen from acceptable weather conditions, and one location per animal randomly selected during daylight hours. Home range statistics will be calculated and used to compare two GPS data sets sorted by accuracy, and the simulated conventional telemetry data set. Benefits and difficulties associated with GPS collars will also be discussed.

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