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Keywords:

  • Pan troglodytes;
  • methods validation;
  • modeling decay;
  • production rate

Abstract

Successful conservation and management of wild animals require reliable estimates of their population size. Ape surveys almost always rely on counts of sleeping nests, as the animals occur at low densities and visibility is low in tropical forests. The reliability of standing-crop nest counts and marked-nest counts, the most widely used methods, has not been tested on populations of known size. Therefore, the answer to the question of which method is more appropriate for surveying chimpanzee population remains problematic and comparisons among sites are difficult.

This study aimed to test the validity of these two methods by comparing their estimates to the known population size of three habituated chimpanzee communities in Taï National Park [Boesch et al., Am J Phys Anthropol 130:103–115, 2006; Boesch et al., Am J Primatol 70:519–532, 2008]. In addition to transect surveys, we made observations on nest production rate and nest lifetime. Taï chimpanzees built 1.143 nests per day. The mean nest lifetime of 141 fresh nests was 91.22 days. Estimate precision for the two methods did not differ considerably (difference of coefficient of variation <5%). The estimate of mean nest decay time was more precise (CV=6.46%) when we used covariates (tree species, rainfall, nest height and age) to model nest decay rate, than when we took a simple mean of nest decay times (CV=9.17%). The two survey methods produced point estimates of chimpanzee abundance that were similar and reliable: i.e. for both methods the true chimpanzee abundance was included within the 95% estimate confidence interval. We recommend further research on covariate modeling of nest decay times as one way to improve the precision and to reduce the costs of conducting nest surveys. Am. J. Primatol. 71:447–457, 2009. © 2009 Wiley-Liss, Inc.