Monitoring coyote population dynamics by genotyping faeces

Authors


Laura R. Prugh, Fax: 604/822 2416, E-mail: prugh@zoology.ubc.ca

Abstract

Reliable population estimates are necessary for effective conservation and management, and faecal genotyping has been used successfully to estimate the population size of several elusive mammalian species. Information such as changes in population size over time and survival rates, however, are often more useful for conservation biology than single population estimates. We evaluated the use of faecal genotyping as a tool for monitoring long-term population dynamics, using coyotes (Canis latrans) in the Alaska Range as a case study. We obtained 544 genotypes from 56 coyotes over 3 years (2000–2002). Tissue samples from all 15 radio-collared coyotes in our study area had ≥ 1 matching faecal genotypes. We used flexible maximum-likelihood models to study coyote population dynamics, and we tested model performance against radio telemetry data. The staple prey of coyotes, snowshoe hares (Lepus americanus), dramatically declined during this study, and the coyote population declined nearly two-fold with a 11/2-year time lag. Survival rates declined the year after hares crashed but recovered the following year. We conclude that long-term monitoring of elusive species using faecal genotyping is feasible and can provide data that are useful for wildlife conservation and management. We highlight some drawbacks of standard open-population models, such as low precision and the requirement of discrete sampling intervals, and we suggest that the development of open models designed for continuously collected data would enhance the utility of faecal genotyping as a monitoring tool.

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