Although mark-recapture protocols produce inaccurate population estimates of termite colonies, they might be employed to estimate a relative change in colony size. This possibility was tested using two Australian, mound-building, wood-eating, subterranean Coptotermes species. Three different toxicants delivered in baits were used to decrease (but not eliminate) colony size, and a single mark-recapture protocol was used to estimate pre- and postbaiting population sizes. For both species, the numbers of termites retrieved from bait stations varied widely, resulting in no significant differences in the numbers of termites sampled between treatments in either the preor postbaiting protocols. There were significantly fewer termites sampled in all treatments, controls included, in the postbaiting protocol compared with the pre-, suggesting a seasonal change in forager numbers. The comparison of population estimates shows a large decrease in toxicant treated colonies compared with little change in control colonies, which suggests that estimating the relative decline in population size using mark-recapture protocols might to be possible. However, the change in population estimate was due entirely to the significantly lower recapture rate in the control colonies relative to the toxicant treated colonies, as numbers of unmarked termites did not change between treatments. The population estimates should be treated with caution because low recapture rates produce dubious population estimates and, in some cases, postbaiting mark-recapture population estimates could be much greater than those at prebaiting, despite consumption of bait in sufficient quantities to cause population decline. A possible interaction between fat-stain markers and toxicants should be investigated if mark-recapture population estimates are used. Alternative methods of population change are advised, along with other indirect measures.
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Vol. 94 • No. 6