How much is your desired dataset worth? The answer depends on the questions you are asking and the amount of difficulty involved in getting to the answers. To be sure, these data are incredibly valuable to you. It will certainly be valuable to the scientific researchers you may collaborate with, and the institution you are affiliated with. It could literally help change the world.
But before you start trapping animals for tagging, you’ll need to find and rationalize funding. That’s the point of this article. Not all types of data are equally valuable. The gold standard for wildlife telemetry is GPS data. And each GPS fix includes additional data beyond the latitude and longitude. What follows is a simplified look at what it takes to make monetary value statements about different animal biotelemetry devices that provide GPS data, using solar or battery-only design.
The costs to acquire devices are simple to understand: this is the hardware price per unit delivered to you. Easy to get by contacting suitable manufacturers. Be sure that the overall device life expectancy is understood, because this is an important factor in this calculation.
Costs to retrieve your data may not be as clear, but in the end these are really quite simple. It’s typically presented as data access, annual GSM service, or something similar. There may be a variable component that can be based on the volume of data you retrieve. Our data access, for example, is a flat annual rate.
Costs to analyze data are the time and any software and platform costs. Analytic software licenses, consulting for programming, computer and storage use fees, etc. The time costs can be difficult to define in advance, but it will certainly help your potential funders understand the level of effort you anticipate for a project.
Life of devices, separate from the length of a particular project, will be the equalizer. This metric is what drives the next, the total number of data points you expect over the life of the device. Units with primary batteries, and no solar recharging, will have shorter life spans and therefore far fewer data points than solar recharging units. With primary (i.e. “non-rechargeable”) battery models, the size of the device usually dictates the physical space for battery. So smaller, battery-only models will have a much shorter life and fewer data points. Solar recharging models conceptually have infinite life. In reality, the life expectancy should be three years. We have many units still in operation for more than three years, but let’s use this as an average for solar powered devices.
Number of GPS fixes over the life of the device is the product of the duty cycle you expect to run and the life expectancy of the device. So if you are going to gather GPS fixes at two hour intervals for 24 hours a day, and your device has an eight month life expectancy, you can anticipate 240 days x 12 data points per day for 2,880 total GPS fixes. For a solar powered wildlife telemetry device, using three years, or 1,095 days x 12 data points per day gives you 13,140 total GPS fixes.
Now simply add up the cost of the data acquisition, retrieval, and analysis, then divide the total by the number of GPS fixes expected.
Your data are valuable because they will ultimately add to the body of scientific knowledge. The cost per datum has to be understood so you can make a persuasive presentation for funding. Using this simple approach will help you be more effective when seeking grants and donations.