Radio collars can be programmed to detach, as did this one from the Mongolian snow leopard Togoldor, after providing GPS coordinates for one year. (Photo: Irbis Mongolia)
Radio-telemetry is a critical aid for gathering detailed information on habitat use or preferences, movement patterns, home range utilization, and social interactions, especially in animals that cannot be readily observed. Modern satellite-linked systems track and store movements on a daily or hourly basis for an entire year or more (see, for example, our work in Mongolia). By matching the animal’s GPS coordinates with a habitat map compiled using satellite images or aerial photographs and ground-truthing, the researcher is able to determine habitat features or conditions that are most important for feeding, resting or breeding. Movements over time indicate how much space the animal requires and whether or not this is shared with other individuals. Conservation plans can be more responsive to these needs. Along with data on average home range size and prey densities, scientists are able to better estimate snow leopard population size (number of cats present in survey area) and density (number of cats per unit area, typically expressed as 100 kilometers square).
- Can generate intensive data on a wide variety of topics
- Essential approach for any species about which little ecological or behavioral information is available
- Collaring process tends to be invasive
- Requires highly trained biologists able to spend long periods of time in the field to catch and monitor collared individuals
- Up to ten times the cost of other techniques due to equipment and manpower needs
- Radio-collars are not highly reliable