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Integrating telemetry data at several scales with spatial capture–recapture to improve density estimates

August 9, 2021

Accurate population estimates are essential for monitoring and managing wildlife populations. Mark–recapture sampling methods have regularly been used to estimate population parameters for rare and cryptic species, including the federally listed Mojave desert tortoise (Gopherus agassizii); however, the methods employed are often plagued by violations of statistical assumptions, which have the potential to bias density estimates. By incorporating spatial information into conventional density estimation models, spatial capture–recapture (SCR) models can account for common assumption violations such as spatially heterogeneous detection probabilities and temporary emigration when animals leave plots during a survey. We conducted mark–recapture surveys at 10 1-km2 plots in and adjacent to the Ivanpah Valley of California and Nevada from 2015 to 2019. Locality data were collected concurrently using radio-telemetry and GPS data loggers. GPS data demonstrated that desert tortoises frequently exhibited temporary emigration outside a plot during the survey periods, thereby complicating standard approaches for closed-model density estimation. We integrated mark–recapture survey data for subadults and adults at each plot with corresponding spatial capture locations and supplementary spatial data using a modified SCR model fitted in a Bayesian framework. We compared density estimates modeled with conventional non-spatial methods, as well as three SCR models based on symmetrical usage areas described by various levels and types of supplementary spatial data. The conventional model consistently resulted in inflated estimates of density while the SCR models allowed us to generate spatially corrected estimates for a species where detectability and densities are low. However, we found that if not properly specified, the temporal scale of supplementary data may result in an unintended source of bias in parameter estimates. Integrating spatial data over a larger temporal scale than mark–recapture surveys were conducted resulted in higher detection probabilities and lower density estimates, due to an overestimation of space use. Our results not only demonstrate the importance of accounting for spatial information but also the value of understanding the potential for bias when integrating multiple data sets at different temporal resolutions. The methods presented can be used to enhance monitoring efforts for the Mojave desert tortoise and other species where mark–recapture methods are used.

Citation Information

Publication Year 2021
Title Integrating telemetry data at several scales with spatial capture–recapture to improve density estimates
DOI 10.1002/ecs2.3689
Authors Corey I Mitchell, Kevin T. Shoemaker, Todd C. Esque, A. G. Vandergast, Steven J. Hromada, Kirsten E. Dutcher, Jill S. Heaton, Kenneth E. Nussear
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Ecosphere
Series Number
Index ID 70223380
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Western Ecological Research Center