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Estimating density for species conservation: Comparing camera trap spatial count models to genetic spatial capture-recapture models
- Burgar, Joanna M., Stewart, Frances E.C., Volpe, John P., Fisher, Jason T., Burton, A. Cole
- Global ecology and conservation 2018 v.15 pp. e00411
- cameras, carnivores, cost effectiveness, home range, models, surveys, wildlife
- Density estimation is integral to the effective conservation and management of wildlife. Camera traps in conjunction with spatial capture-recapture (SCR) models have been used to accurately and precisely estimate densities of “marked” wildlife populations comprising identifiable individuals. The emergence of spatial count (SC) models holds promise for cost-effective density estimation of “unmarked” wildlife populations when individuals are not identifiable. We evaluated model agreement, precision, and survey costs, between i) a fully marked approach using SCR models fit using non-invasive genetic data, and ii) an unmarked approach using SC models fit using camera trap data, for a recovering population of the mesocarnivore fisher (Pekania pennanti). The SCR density estimates ranged from 2.95 to 3.42 (2.18–5.19 95% BCI) fishers 100 km−2. The SC density estimates were influenced by their priors, ranging from 0.95 (0.65–2.95 95% BCI) fishers 100 km−2 for the uninformative model to 3.60 (2.01–7.55 95% BCI) fishers 100 km−2 for the model informed by prior knowledge of a 16 km2 fisher home range. We caution against using strongly informative priors but instead recommend using a range of unweighted prior knowledge. Thin detection data was problematic for both SCR and SC models, potentially producing biased low estimates. The total cost of the genetic survey ($47 610) was two-thirds of the camera trap survey ($77 080), or comparable ($75 746) if genetic sampling effort was increased to include sex and trap-behaviour covariates in SCR models. Density estimation of unmarked populations continues to be a series of trade-offs but as methods improve and integrate, so will our estimates.