Main content area

Cluster capture‐recapture to account for identification uncertainty on aerial surveys of animal populations

Stevenson, Ben C., Borchers, David L., Fewster, Rachel M.
Biometrics 2019 v.75 no.1 pp. 326-336
aerial surveys, animal density, animals, biometry, cameras, mark-recapture studies, models, population size, uncertainty, wildlife
Capture‐recapture methods for estimating wildlife population sizes almost always require their users to identify every detected animal. Many modern‐day wildlife surveys detect animals without physical capture—visual detection by cameras is one such example. However, for every pair of detections, the surveyor faces a decision that is often fraught with uncertainty: are they linked to the same individual? An inability to resolve every such decision to a high degree of certainty prevents the use of standard capture‐recapture methods, impeding the estimation of animal density. Here, we develop an estimator for aerial surveys, on which two planes or unmanned vehicles (drones) fly a transect over the survey region, detecting individuals via high‐definition cameras. Identities remain unknown, so one cannot discern if two detections match to the same animal; however, detections in close proximity are more likely to match. By modeling detection locations as a clustered point process, we extend recently developed methodology and propose a precise and computationally efficient estimator of animal density that does not require individual identification. We illustrate the method with an aerial survey of porpoise, on which cameras detect individuals at the surface of the sea, and we need to take account of the fact that they are not always at the surface.