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A framework for validating noninvasive genetic spatial capture-recapture studies for rare and elusive species
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  • Samantha McFarlane,
  • Micheline Manseau,
  • Robin Steenweg,
  • Dave Hervieux,
  • Troy Hegel,
  • Simon Slater,
  • Paul Wilson
Samantha McFarlane
Trent University
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Micheline Manseau
Environment and Climate Change Canada
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Robin Steenweg
Alberta Environment and Parks
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Dave Hervieux
Alberta Environment and Parks
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Troy Hegel
Alberta Environment and Parks
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Simon Slater
Alberta Environment and Parks
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Paul Wilson
Trent University, Trent University
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Abstract

Accurately estimating abundance is a critical component of monitoring and recovery of rare and elusive species. Spatial capture-recapture (SCR) models are an increasingly popular method for robust estimation of ecological parameters. We provide a maximum likelihood analytical framework to assess results from empirical studies to inform SCR sampling design, using both simulated and empirical data from non-invasive genetic sampling of seven boreal caribou populations (Rangifer tarandus caribou) which varied in range size and estimated population density. We use simulated population data with varying levels of clustered distributions to quantify the impact of non-independence of detections on density estimates, and empirical datasets to explore the influence of varied sampling intensity on the relative bias and precision of density estimates. Simulations revealed that clustered distributions of detections did not significantly impact relative bias or precision of density estimates. The empirical genotyping success rate was 95.1%. Empirical results indicated that reduced sampling intensity had a greater impact on density estimates in smaller ranges. The number of captures and spatial recaptures were strongly correlated with precision, but not relative bias. The best sampling designs did not differ with estimated population density but differed between large and small ranges. We provide an efficient framework implemented in R to estimate the detection parameters required when designing SCR studies. The framework can be used when designing a monitoring program to minimize effort and cost while maximizing effectiveness, which is critical for informing wildlife management and conservation.