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Background: Acoustic telemetry is an increasingly common method used to address ecological questions about the movement, behaviour, and survival of freshwater and marine organisms. The variable performance of acoustic telemetry equipment and ability of receivers to detect signals from transmitters have been well studied in marine and coral reef environments to inform study design and improve data interpretation. Despite the growing use of acoustic telemetry in large, deep, freshwater systems, detection efficiency and range, particularly in relation to environmental variation, are poorly understood. We used an array of 90 69-kHz acoustic receivers and 8 sentinel range transmitters of varying power output deployed at different depths and locations approximately 100-9500 m apart for 215 days to evaluate how the detection efficiency of acoustic receivers varied spatially and temporally in relation to environmental conditions. Results: The maximum distance that tags were detected ranged from 5.9 to 9.3 km. Shallow tags consistently had lower detection efficiency than deep tags of the same power output and detection efficiency declined through the winter months (December-February) of the study. In addition to the distance between tag and receiver, thermocline strength, surface water velocity, ice thickness, water temperature, depth range between tag and receiver, and number of fish detections contributed to explaining variation in detection efficiency throughout the study period. Furthermore, the most significant models incorporated interactions between several environmental variables and tag-receiver distance, demonstrating the complex temporal and spatial relationships that exist in heterogeneous environments. Conclusions: Relying on individual environmental variables in isolation to interpret receiver performance, and thus animal behaviour, may be erroneous when detection efficiency varies across distances, depths, or tag types. As acoustic telemetry becomes more widely used to study ecology and inform management, it is crucial to understand its limitations in heterogeneous environments, such as freshwater lakes, to improve the quality and interpretation of data. We recommend that in situ range testing and retrospective analysis of detection efficiency be incorporated into study design for telemetry projects. Furthermore, we caution against oversimplifying the dynamic relationship between detection efficiency and environmental conditions for the sake of producing a correction that can be applied directly to detection data of tagged animals when the intended correction may not be justified.
Klinard, N. V., Halfyard, E. A., Matley, J. K., Fisk, A. T., & Johnson, T. B. (2019). The influence of dynamic environmental interactions on detection efficiency of acoustic transmitters in a large, deep, freshwater lake. Animal Biotelemetry, 7(1). https://doi.org/10.1186/s40317-019-0179-1