DETERMINATION OF MANATEE POPULATION TRENDS ALONG THE ATLANTIC COAST OF FLORIDA USING A BAYESIAN APPROACH WITH TEMPERATURE-ADJUSTED AERIAL SURVEY DATA

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Abstract

In many animal population survey studies, the construction of a stochastic model provides an effective way to capture underlying biological characteristics that contribute to the overall variation in the data. In this paper we develop a stochastic model to assess the population trend and abundance of the Florida manatee, Trichechus manatus latirostris, along the Atlantic coast of the state, using aerial survey data collected at winter aggregation sites between 1982 and 2001. This model accounts for the method by which the manatees were counted, their movements between surveys, and the behavior of the total population over time. The data suggest an overall increase in the population from 1982 to 1989 of around 5%–7%, a reduction in growth or a leveling off (0%–4% annual growth) from 1990 to 1993, and then an increase again of around 3%–6% since 1994. In winter 2001–2002 (the most recent survey season for which analyses were done), we estimated the adult manatee population along the east coast of Florida to be 1,607 individuals (range = 1,353–1,972; 95% credible interval). Our estimate of manatee abundance corresponds well with maximum counts (approximately 1,600 manatees) produced during synoptic aerial surveys under optimal conditions. Our calculations of trends correspond well with mark and recapture analyses of trends in survival of adult manatees along the east coast through the early 1990s. Our population trend estimates since that time are more optimistic than those generated by mark-recapture models.

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