Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Units Program: New York
Education, Research and Technical Assistance for Managing Our Natural Resources

Walsh P, Sethi SA, Lake B, Mangipane B, Nielson R, Lowe S. (2016) Estimating denning date of wolves with daily movement and GPS location fix failure. Wildlife Society Bulletin. Wildlife Society Bulletin 40:663-668. DOI: 10.1002/wsb.703


We used Global Positioning System (GPS) radiotelemetry data from 7 breeding female wolves (Canis lupus; n = 14 dennings) in 3 regions across Alaska, USA, during 2008–2011 to develop and compare methods for estimating the onset of denning, and thus infer timing of parturition. We developed and tested 2 estimators based on a combination of GPS radiocollar location-fix failure and distance traveled between locations. We developed a quantitative method employing Generalized Additive Models to smooth time series of wolf data to estimate denning onset. In contrast, 3 study authors with first-hand experience with the study wolves implemented a subjective method of estimating denning onset by visual inspection of detection and distance traveled data. We then tested the visual method for repeatability by subjecting it to 10 wolf experts not associated with this study. Side-by-side comparison of estimators indicates that denning onset can be precisely measured using GPS detection success and distance traveled. Furthermore, the visual-inspection method was simple and rapid to implement and yielded more accurate (relative to assumed onset dates of denning-onset dates) and precise results compared to the quantitative estimator. Although the Generalized Additive Model based approach had the advantage of estimating denning onset objectively following a set of prescribed rules in a statistical inferential framework, we found the method required significant technical capacity to implement and did not represent an improvement over simple visual-inspection–based estimates of denning onset.