Conservation concern for fishers (Pekania [Martes] pennanti) in the Pacific states has highlighted a need to develop cost-effective methods of monitoring reproduction in extant and reintroduced fisher populations. We evaluated the efficacy of nipple size as a predictive index of weaning success for females with known reproductive histories from 3 study areas in California. We captured and radiocollared 91 female fishers on 146 occasions between 2004 and 2011 and measured the width and height of all 4 nipples and quantified reproductive status via radiotelemetry. We classified each radiomarked female into 1 of 3 reproductive classes (nonbreeders, attempted breeders, and current breeders) based on our telemetry observations during the den season prior to capture. We used a modified random forests (RF) procedure to account for repeated measures of individual females sampled in multiple years. Our modified RF procedure correctly classified reproductive class for 130 (89%) and 131 (90%) of our 146 observations using raw and weighted vote totals, respectively. We calculated Cohen's kappa of 0.80 and 0.81 using raw and weighted vote totals, respectively, indicating strong model performance. We conclude that nipple sizes of female fishers measured during a livetrapping effort can be used as a cost-effective index of the weaning rates of adult female fishers.
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Vol. 94 • No. 5