Integrating resource selection into spatial capture-recapture models for large carnivores

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Wildlife managers need reliable methods to estimate large carnivore densities and population trends; yet large carnivores are elusive, difficult to detect, and occur at low densities making traditional approaches intractable. Recent advances in spatial capture-recapture (SCR) models have provided new approaches for monitoring trends in wildlife abundance and these methods are particularly applicable to large carnivores. We applied SCR models in a Bayesian framework to estimate mountain lion densities in the Bitterroot Mountains of west central Montana. We incorporate an existing resource selection function (RSF) as a density covariate to account for heterogeneity in habitat use across the study area and include data collected from harvested lions. We identify individuals through DNA samples collected by (1) biopsy darting mountain lions detected in systematic surveys of the study area, (2) opportunistically collecting hair and scat samples, and (3) sampling all harvested mountain lions. We included 80 DNA samples collected from 62 individuals in the analysis. Including information on predicted habitat use as a covariate on the distribution of activity centers reduced the median estimated density by 44%, the standard deviation by 7%, and the width of 95% credible intervals by 10% as compared to standard SCR models. Within the two management units of interest, we estimated a median mountain lion density of 4.5 mountain lions/100 km2 (95% CI = 2.9, 7.7) and 5.2 mountain lions/100 km2 (95% CI = 3.4, 9.1). Including harvested individuals (dead recovery) did not create a significant bias in the detection process by introducing individuals that could not be detected after removal. However, the dead recovery component of the model did have a substantial effect on results by increasing sample size. The ability to account for heterogeneity in habitat use provides a useful extension to SCR models, and will enhance the ability of wildlife managers to reliably and economically estimate density of wildlife populations, particularly large carnivores.

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Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Integrating resource selection into spatial capture-recapture models for large carnivores
Series title Ecosphere
DOI 10.1890/ES15-00001.1
Volume 6
Issue 11
Year Published 2015
Language English
Publisher Ecological Society of America
Contributing office(s) National Wildlife Health Center
Description art239; 15 p.
Country United States
State Montana
Other Geospatial Bitterroot Mountains
Online Only (Y/N) N
Additional Online Files (Y/N) N
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