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Estimating Sonoran pronghorn abundance and survival with fecal DNA and capture–recapture methods

Woodruff, Susannah P., Lukacs, Paul M., Christianson, David, Waits, Lisette P.
Conservation biology 2016 v.30 no.5 pp. 1102-1111
Antilocapra americana, DNA, adults, ecosystems, endangered species, fawns, monitoring, population growth, savannas, United States
Population abundance estimates are important for management but can be challenging to determine in low‐density, wide‐ranging, and endangered species, such as Sonoran pronghorn (Antilocapra americana sonoriensis). The Sonoran pronghorn population has been increasing; however, population estimates are currently derived from a biennial aerial count that does not provide survival or recruitment estimates. We identified individuals through noninvasively collected fecal DNA and used robust‐design capture–recapture to estimate abundance and survival for Sonoran pronghorn in the United States from 2013 to 2014. In 2014 we generated separate population estimates for pronghorn gathered near 13 different artificial water holes and for pronghorn not near water holes. The population using artificial water holes had 116 (95% CI 102–131) and 121 individuals (95% CI 112–132) in 2013 and 2014, respectively. For all locations, we estimated there were 144 individuals (95% CI 132–157). Adults had higher annual survival probabilities (0.83, 95% CI 0.69–0.92) than fawns (0.41, 95% CI 0.21–0.65). Our use of targeted noninvasive genetic sampling and capture–recapture with Sonoran pronghorn fecal DNA was an effective method for monitoring a large proportion of the population. Our results provided the first survival estimates for this population in over 2 decades and precise estimates of the population using artificial water holes. Our method could be used for targeted sampling of broadly distributed species in other systems, such as in African savanna ecosystems, where many species congregate at watering sites.