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Abstract

The search for easy-to-use indices that substitute for direct estimation of animal density is a common theme in wildlife and conservation science, but one fraught with well-known perils (Nichols & Conroy, 1996; Yoccoz, Nichols & Boulinier, 2001; Pollock et al., 2002). To establish the utility of an index as a substitute for an estimate of density, one must: (1) demonstrate a functional relationship between the index and density that is invariant over the desired scope of inference; (2) calibrate the functional relationship by obtaining independent measures of the index and the animal density; (3) evaluate the precision of the calibration (Diefenbach et al., 1994). Carbone et al. (2001) argue that the number of camera-days per photograph is a useful index of density for large, cryptic, forest-dwelling animals, and proceed to calibrate this index for tigers (Panthera tigris). We agree that a properly calibrated index may be useful for rapid assessments in conservation planning. However, Carbone et al. (2001), who desire to use their index as a substitute for density, do not adequately address the three elements noted above. Thus, we are concerned that others may view their methods as justification for not attempting directly to estimate animal densities, without due regard for the shortcomings of their approach.