Down a hole: missing GPS positions reveal birth dates of an underground denning species, the red fox
Peer reviewed, Journal article
MetadataShow full item record
Global positioning system (GPS) technology is increasingly used to study animal behavior. However, some animals exhibit behaviors that may result in the failure to acquire a GPS position, such as for species with underground denning behavior. This creates a challenge for researchers to identify the timing of important life-history events such as birth. Here, we tested if information gaps arising from unsuccessful GPS positions, in connection with intrinsic and extrinsic factors, can identify parturition events in an underground denning species, the red fox. Using data from 30 GPS collared female red foxes during the approximate parturition period of 1 March–31 May, we calculated the proportion of successful GPS positions per day. We then compared the patterns of successful GPS positions for females of known reproductive status to those known not to have reproduced and a subset of females for which reproductive status was unknown. Females confirmed to have pups (n=11) and two females of unknown reproductive status showed a significant difference in the proportion of successful GPS positions compared to females without pups, illustrating that parturition and denning activity could be identified from GPS data. None of the 12 subadult females were identified as denning. Parturition date, identified as the day with the lowest GPS fx rate within the five-day period with the lowest proportion of successful GPS positions, ranged from 20 March–14 May, with a mean parturition date of 12 April. We, therefore, conclude that important biological information, such as reproductive status and parturition dates, can be identified from patterns of missing GPS positions for some underground denning species.