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Keywords:

  • abundance estimate;
  • capture–recapture;
  • fecal genotyping;
  • genotyping error;
  • non-invasive genetic sampling;
  • Rangifer tarandus caribou;
  • species at risk;
  • trend analysis;
  • woodland caribou

Abstract

A critical step in recovery efforts for endangered and threatened species is the monitoring of population demographic parameters. As part of these efforts, we evaluated the use of fecal-DNA based capture–recapture methods to estimate population sizes and population rate of change for the North Interlake woodland caribou herd (Rangifer tarandus caribou), Manitoba, Canada. This herd is part of the boreal population of woodland caribou, listed as threatened under the federal Species at Risk Act (2003) and the provincial Manitoba Endangered Species Act (2006). Between 2004 and 2009 (9 surveys), we collected 1,080 fecal samples and identified 180 unique genotypes (102 females and 78 males). We used a robust design survey plan with 2 surveys in most years and analysed the data with Program MARK to estimate encounter rates (p), apparent survival rates (φ), rates of population change (λ), and population sizes (N). We estimated these demographic parameters for males and females and for 2 genetic clusters within the North Interlake. The population size estimates were larger for the Lower than the Upper North Interlake area and the proportion of males was lower in the Lower (33%) than the Upper North Interlake (49%). Population rate of change for the entire North Interlake area (2005–2009) using the robust design Pradel model was significantly <1.0 (λ = 0.90, 95% CI: 0.82–0.99) and varied between sex and area with the highest being for males in Lower North Interlake (λ = 0.98, 95% CI: 0.83–1.13) and the lowest being for females in Upper North Interlake (λ = 0.83, 95% CI: 0.69–0.97). The additivity of λ between sex and area is supported on the log scale and translates into males having a λ that is 0.09 greater than females and independent of sex, Lower North Interlake having a λ that is 0.06 greater than Upper North Interlake. Population estimates paralleled these declining trends, which correspond to trends observed in other fragmented populations of woodland caribou along the southern part of their range. The results of this study clearly demonstrate the applicability and success of non-invasive genetic sampling in monitoring populations of woodland caribou. © 2012 The Wildlife Society.