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Integrating biology, field logistics, and simulations to optimize parameter estimation for imperiled species

June 2, 2016

Conservation of imperiled species often requires knowledge of vital rates and population dynamics. However, these can be difficult to estimate for rare species and small populations. This problem is further exacerbated when individuals are not available for detection during some surveys due to limited access, delaying surveys and creating mismatches between the breeding behavior and survey timing. Here we use simulations to explore the impacts of this issue using four hypothetical boreal toad (Anaxyrus boreas boreas) populations, representing combinations of logistical access (accessible, inaccessible) and breeding behavior (synchronous, asynchronous). We examine the bias and precision of survival and breeding probability estimates generated by survey designs that differ in effort and timing for these populations. Our findings indicate that the logistical access of a site and mismatch between the breeding behavior and survey design can greatly limit the ability to yield accurate and precise estimates of survival and breeding probabilities. Simulations similar to what we have performed can help researchers determine an optimal survey design(s) for their system before initiating sampling efforts.