The effects of interpolation error and location quality on animal track reconstruction

Mike Lonergan, Mike Fedak, Bernie McConnell

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

20 Citations (Scopus)


The Global Positioning System (GPS) gives precise estimates of location. However, the investigation of animal movement and behavior often requires interpolation to examine events between such fixes. We obtained 6,288 GPS locations from an electronic tag deployed for 170 d on an adult male gray seal (Halichoerus grypus) that ranged freely off the east coast of Scotland, and interpolated between subsamples of these data to investigate the growth of uncertainty within the intervals between observations. Average uncertainty over the path increased linearly as the interval between interpolating locations increased, reaching 12 km in longitude and 6 km in latitude at 2-d separation. The decrease in precision caused by duty-cycling, only collecting data in part of the day, was demonstrated. Adding noise to the GPS locations to simulate data from the ARGOS satellite system had little effect on the total errors for observations separated by more than 12 h. While the rate of growth in interpolation error is likely to vary between species, these results suggest that frequent, and preferably evenly spaced, location fixes are required to take full advantage of the precision of GPS data in the reconstruction of animal tracks.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)275-282
Number of pages8
JournalMarine Mammal Science
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 16 Apr 2009


  • Animal tracking
  • Location accuracy
  • Movement models
  • Path smoothing
  • Pinniped
  • Spatial precision


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