Density estimation of sympatric carnivores using spatially explicit capture–recapture methods and standard trapping grid

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Abstract

Population density is an important state variable in ecology and monitoring of wildlife populations. In the study of large carnivores, traditional density estimation methods have relied on camera trapping to collect capture–recapture data using sampling designs suited to a single target species and ad hoc methods to calculate the effective trapping area. We describe an application of spatially explicit capture–recapture analysis to estimate density for four sympatric carnivore species using a standard spatial sampling grid, camera trap sampling, and maximum-likelihood estimation methods. We used camera traps deployed in four adjacent, sequential camera arrays to construct capture histories for leopard, aardwolf, spotted hyena, and striped hyena in an African savanna/scrub ecosystem. We considered two methods of constructing trapping histories: (1) a simultaneous layout in which all cameras are deployed and active for 21 trapping intervals of 24 h each; and (2) an incomplete layout in which cameras are considered deployed for 84 sampling intervals, but with only a fraction of traps active for a given sampling interval. We estimated density and confidence or profile likelihood intervals for each species using a mean maximum distance moved method and maximum-likelihood estimation procedures with model averaging. Maximum-likelihood densities ranged from 4.93/100 km2 for spotted hyena to 12.03/100 km2 for leopard. Estimates did not differ between simultaneous and incomplete trap layouts. Our approach demonstrates the utility and cost effectiveness of using maximum-likelihood density estimation methods in studies of sympatric species that are individually recognizable.

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