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Keywords:

  • aerial surveys;
  • Colinus virginianus;
  • density;
  • distance sampling;
  • line transects;
  • northern bobwhite

Abstract

Distance sampling during aerial surveys has been used extensively to estimate the density of many wildlife species. However, practical issues arise when using distance sampling during aerial surveys, such as obtaining accurate perpendicular distances. We assembled a computerized, electronic system to collect distance-sampling data (e.g., transect length, detection location, and perpendicular distance) during aerial surveys. We tested the accuracy of the system in a controlled trial and a mock survey. We also evaluated the electronic system during field surveys of northern bobwhite (Colinus virginianus) conducted in the Rio Grande Plains and Rolling Plains ecoregions of Texas, USA, during December 2007–2008. For comparison, we evaluated the accuracy of visual estimation of distance during a mock survey. A strong linear relationship existed between estimated and actual distances for the controlled trial (r2 = 0.99) and mock survey (r2 = 0.98) using the electronic system. Perpendicular-distance error (i.e., absolute difference between estimated distance and actual distance) for the electronic system was low during the controlled trial (1.4 ± 0.4 m; equation image ± SE) and mock survey (3.0 ± 0.5 m) but not during the visual estimation of distance (10 ± 1.5 m). Estimates of bobwhite density obtained using the electronic system exhibited reasonable precision for each ecoregion during both years (CV < 20%). Perpendicular-distance error slightly increased with target distance (0.7-m increase in error for every 10-m increase in target distance). Overall, the electronic system appears to be a promising technique to estimate density of northern bobwhite and possibly other terrestrial species for which aerial-based distance sampling is appropriate. © The Wildlife Society, 2012