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Kery, M.; Gardner, B.; Stoeckle, T.; Weber, D.; Royle, J.A.
Use of Spatial Capture-Recapture Modeling and DNA Data to Estimate Densities of Elusive Animals
2011  Conservation Biology (25): 356-364

Assessment of abundance, survival, recruitment rates, and density (i.e., population assessment) is especially challenging for elusive species most in need of protection (e.g., rare carnivores). Individual identification methods, such as DNA sampling, provide ways of studying such species efficiently and noninvasively. Additionally, statistical methods that correct for undetected animals and account for locations where animals are captured are available to efficiently estimate density and other demographic parameters. We collected hair samples of European wildcat ( Felis silvestris) from cheek-rub lure sticks, extracted DNA from the samples, and identified each animals' genotype. To estimate the density of wildcats, we used Bayesian inference in a spatial capture-recapture model. We used WinBUGS to fit a model that accounted for differences in detection probability among individuals and seasons and between two lure arrays. We detected 21 individual wildcats (including possible hybrids) 47 times. Wildcat density was estimated at 0.29/km2 (SE 0.06), and 95% of the activity of wildcats was estimated to occur within 1.83 km from their home-range center. Lures located systematically were associated with a greater number of detections than lures placed in a cell on the basis of expert opinion. Detection probability of individual cats was greatest in late March. Our model is a generalized linear mixed model; hence, it can be easily extended, for instance, to incorporate trap- and individual-level covariates. We believe that the combined use of noninvasive sampling techniques and spatial capture-recapture models will improve population assessments, especially for rare and elusive animals.

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