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PopEquus: a predictive modeling tool to support management decisions for free-roaming horse populations

September 14, 2023

Feral horse (Equus caballus) population management is a challenging problem around the world because populations often exhibit density-independent growth, can exert negative ecological effects on ecosystems, and require great cost to be managed. However, strong value-based connections between people and horses cause contention around management decisions. To help make informed decisions, natural resource managers might benefit from more detailed understanding of how horse management alternatives, including combinations of removals and fertility control methods, could achieve objectives of sustainable, multiple-use ecosystems while minimizing overall horse handling and fiscal costs. Here, we describe a modeling tool that simulates horse management alternatives and estimates trade-offs in predicted metrics related to population size, animal handling, and direct costs of management. The model considers six management actions for populations (removals for adoption or long-term holding; fertility control treatment with three vaccines, intrauterine devices, and mare sterilization), used alone or in combination. We simulated 19 alternative management scenarios at 2-, 3-, and 4-year management return intervals and identified efficiency frontiers among alternatives for trade-offs between predicted population size and six management metrics. Our analysis identified multiple alternatives that could maintain populations within target population size ranges, but some alternatives (e.g., removal and mare sterilization, removal and GonaCon treatment) performed better at minimizing overall animal handling requirements and management costs. Cost savings increased under alternatives with more effective, longer lasting fertility control techniques over longer management intervals compared with alternatives with less-effective, shorter lasting fertility control techniques. We built a user-friendly website application, PopEquus, that decision makers and interested individuals can use to simulate management alternatives and evaluate trade-offs among management and cost metrics. Our results and website application provide quantitative trade-off tools for horse population management decisions and can help support value-based management decisions for wild or feral horse populations and ecosystems at local and regional scales around the world.

Publication Year 2023
Title PopEquus: a predictive modeling tool to support management decisions for free-roaming horse populations
DOI 10.1002/ecs2.4632
Authors Brian Patrick Folt, Kathryn A. Schoenecker, L. Stefan Ekernas, David R. Edmunds, Mark T. Hannon
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Ecosphere
Index ID 70248727
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Fort Collins Science Center