Improving estimation of flight altitude in wildlife telemetry studies

Journal of Applied Ecology
By: , and 



  1. Altitude measurements from wildlife tracking devices, combined with elevation data, are commonly used to estimate the flight altitude of volant animals. However, these data often include measurement error. Understanding this error may improve estimation of flight altitude and benefit applied ecology.
  2. There are a number of different approaches that have been used to address this measurement error. These include filtering based on GPS data, filtering based on behaviour of the study species, and use of state-space models to correct measurement error. The effectiveness of these approaches is highly variable.
  3. Recent studies have based inference of flight altitude on misunderstandings about avian natural history and technical or analytical tools. In this Commentary, we discuss these misunderstandings and suggest alternative strategies both to resolve some of these issues and to improve estimation of flight altitude. These strategies also can be applied to other measures derived from telemetry data.
  4. Synthesis and applications. Our Commentary is intended to clarify and improve upon some of the assumptions made when estimating flight altitude and, more broadly, when using GPS telemetry data. We also suggest best practices for identifying flight behaviour, addressing GPS error, and using flight altitudes to estimate collision risk with anthropogenic structures. Addressing the issues we describe would help improve estimates of flight altitude and advance understanding of the treatment of error in wildlife telemetry studies.
Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Improving estimation of flight altitude in wildlife telemetry studies
Series title Journal of Applied Ecology
DOI 10.1111/1365-2664.13135
Volume 55
Issue 4
Year Published 2018
Language English
Publisher British Ecological Society
Contributing office(s) Forest and Rangeland Ecosystem Science Center
Description 7 p.
First page 2064
Last page 2070
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