Recent studies have demonstrated the high potential of drones as tools to facilitate wildlife radio-tracking in rugged, difficult-to-access terrain. Without estimates of accuracy, however, data obtained from receivers attached to drones will be of limited use. We estimated transmitter location errors from a drone-borne VHF (very high frequency) receiver in a hilly and dense boreal forest in southern Québec, Canada. Transmitters and the drone-borne receiver were part of the Motus radio-tracking system, a collaborative network designed to study animal movements at local to continental scales. We placed five transmitters at fixed locations, 1–2 m above ground, and flew a quadrotor drone over them along linear segments, at distances to transmitters ranging from 20 m to 534 m. Signal strength was highest with transmitters with antennae pointing upwards, and lowest with transmitters with horizontal antennae. Based on drone positions with maximum signal strength, mean location error was 134 m (range 44–278 m, n = 17). Estimating peak signal strength against drone GPS coordinates with quadratic, least-squares regressions led to lower location error (mean = 94 m, range 15–275 m, n = 10) but with frequent loss of data due to statistical estimation problems. We conclude that accuracy in this system was insufficient for high-precision purposes such as finding nests. However, in the absence of a dense array of fixed receivers, the use of drone-borne Motus receivers may be a cost-effective way to augment the quantity and quality of data, relative to deploying personnel in difficult-to-access terrain.
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