Interpolation of geolocation or Argos tracking data is a necessity for habitat use analyses of marine vertebrates. In a fluid marine environment, characterized by curvilinear structures, linearly interpolated track data are not realistic. Based on these two facts, we interpolated tracking data from albatrosses, penguins, boobies, sea lions, fur seals and elephant seals using six mathematical algorithms. Given their popularity in mathematical computing, we chose Bézier, hermite and cubic splines, in addition to a commonly used linear algorithm to interpolate data. Performance of interpolation methods was compared with different temporal resolutions representative of the less-precise geolocation and the more-precise Argos tracking techniques. Parameters from interpolated sub-sampled tracks were compared with those obtained from intact tracks. Average accuracy of the interpolated location was not affected by the interpolation method and was always within the precision of the tracking technique used. However, depending on the species tested, some curvilinear interpolation algorithms produced greater occurrences of more accurate locations, compared with the linear interpolation method. Total track lengths were consistently underestimated but were always more accurate using curvilinear interpolation than linear interpolation. Curvilinear algorithms are safe to use because accuracy, shape and length of the tracks are either not different or are slightly enhanced and because analyses always remain conservative. The choice of the curvilinear algorithm does not affect the resulting track dramatically so it should not preclude their use. We thus recommend using curvilinear interpolation techniques because of the more realistic fluid movements of animals. We also provide some guidelines for choosing an algorithm that is most likely to maximize track quality for different types of marine vertebrates.
Y Tremblay, Scott A. Shaffer, S L. Fowler, C E. Kuhn, B I. McDonald, M J. Weise, C -A Bost, H Weimerskirch, D E. Crocker, M E. Goebel, and D P. Costa. "Interpolation of tracking data in a fluid environment" Journal of Experimental Biology (2006): 128-140. DOI: 10.1242/jeb.01970