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Optimizing release strategies: A stepping-stone approach to reintroduction

October 13, 2020

Evaluation of alternative management strategies enables informed decisions to accelerate species recovery. For reintroductions, post-release survival to reproductive age is a key parameter influencing population growth. Here we trial a ‘stepping-stone’ method to maximize the success of captive-bred animals when the availability of more suitable wild-born release candidates is limited. Our approach makes use of relatively safe and established wild populations to prepare captive-bred individuals for eventual translocation to a final release destination, thus building resilience through establishment of multiple populations over time. We developed a novel multievent model integrating encounter history and biotelemetry data to evaluate reintroduction strategies for the critically endangered Vancouver Island marmot (Marmota vancouverensis). We compared post-release survival of 176 individuals (52 wild-born, 47 captive-bred marmots released directly to destinations, and 77 captive-bred marmots released with a stepping-stone approach). Survival estimates to prime breeding-age (PBA), were then used to quantify expected success of potential release strategies. Our analysis indicates that post-release survival varies by source population and release method, as well as age, season, year, and years since release. Conditional on an objective of maximizing survival to PBA, our results suggest that using wild-born marmots for translocations as often as possible, and stepping-stone captive-bred marmots prior to final release, will result in the best outcomes. There was a 0.86 probability that survival to PBA was greater for captive-bred marmots released as yearlings using a stepping-stone approach (survival to PBA mode = 0.13, 95% CRI = 0.05-0.30) than for captive-bred animals that were directly released to destination sites as one-year-olds (survival to PBA mode = 0.04, 95% CRI = 0.01-0.24). Consequently, the stepping-stone approach yields much higher population establishment or growth potential than previous release strategies that used captive-bred marmots. Optimizing the combination of release candidates, sites, and timing can thereby increase the effectiveness of reintroductions.

Publication Year 2020
Title Optimizing release strategies: A stepping-stone approach to reintroduction
DOI 10.1111/acv.12448
Authors N.A. Lloyd, Nathan J. Hostetter, C.L. Jackson, Sarah J. Converse, A. Moehrenschlager
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Index ID 70227991
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Coop Res Unit Seattle