Using Statistical Population Reconstruction to Estimate Demographic Trends in Small Game Populations




ABSTRACT  Statistical population reconstruction offers a robust approach to demographic assessment for harvested populations, but current methods are restricted to big-game species with multiple age classes. We extended this approach to small game and analyzed 14 years of age-at-harvest data for greater sage-grouse (Centrocercus urophasianus) in Oregon, USA, in conjunction with radiotelemetry data to reconstruct annual abundance levels, recruitment, and natural survival probabilities. Abundance estimates ranged from a low of 26,236 in 1995 to a high of 39,492 in 2004. Annual abundance estimates for adult males were correlated with a spring lek count index (r = 0.849, P < 0.029). We estimated the average annual harvest mortality for the population to be 0.028, ranging from 0.021 to 0.031 across years. We estimated the probability of natural survival of adult females to be 0.818 (inline image = 0.052), somewhat higher than that of adult males (Ŝ = 0.609, inline image = 0.163). Our precision in reconstructing the population was hampered by low harvest rates and the few birds tagged in the radiotelemetry investigations. Despite these issues, our analysis illustrates how modern statistical reconstruction procedures offer a flexible framework for demographic assessment using commonly collected data. This approach offers a useful alternative to small-game indices and would be most appropriate for species with 5 or more years of age-at-harvest data and moderate-to-heavy harvest rates.