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We encourage informed and transparent decision-making processes concerning the recently expanded programs in Alaska, USA, to reduce predation on moose (Alces alces). The decision whether to implement predator control ultimately concerns what society should value; therefore, policymakers, not objective biologists, play a leadership role. From a management and scientific standpoint, biological support for these predator-control programs requires convincing evidence that 1) predators kill substantial numbers of moose that would otherwise mostly live and be available for harvest, 2) low predation can facilitate reliably higher harvests of moose, 3) given less predation, habitats can sustain more moose and be protected from too many moose, and 4) sustainable populations of Alaska's brown bears (Ursus arctos), black bears (Ursus americanus), and wolves (Canis lupus) will exist in and out of control areas. We reviewed 10 moose mortality studies, 36 case histories, 10 manipulative studies, 15 moose nutrition studies, and 3 recent successful uses of nutrition-based management to harvest excess female moose. Results of these studies support application of long-term, substantial predator control for increasing yield of moose in these simple systems where moose are a primary prey of 3 effective predators. We found no substantive, contradictory results in these systems. However, to identify and administer feasible moose population objectives, recently established moose nutritional indices must be monitored, and regulatory bodies must accept nutrition-based management. In addition, the efficacy of techniques to reduce bear predation requires further study. Predicting precise results of predator control on subsequent harvest of moose will continue to be problematic because of a diversity of changing interactions among biological, environmental, and practical factors. In Alaska, the governor has the prerogative to influence regulations on predator control by appointing members to the Board of Game. At least annually, the Board of Game hears a wide spectrum of public opinions opposing and favoring predator control. We summarized these opinions as well as the societal and cultural values and expectations that are often the primary basis for debates. Advocates on both sides of the debate suggest they hold the higher conservation ethic, and both sides provide biased science. We recommend a more constructive and credible dialogue that focuses openly on values rather than on biased science and fabricated conspiracies. To be credible and to add substance in this divisive political arena, biologists must be well informed and provide complete information in an unbiased and respectful manner without exaggeration.
The coyote (Canis latrans) is a recent addition to the fauna of eastern North America, and in many areas coyote populations have been established for only a decade or two. Although coyotes are known predators of white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) in their historic range, effects this new predator may have on eastern deer populations have received little attention. We speculated that in the southeastern United States, coyotes may be affecting deer recruitment, and we present 5 lines of evidence that suggest this possibility. First, the statewide deer population in South Carolina has declined coincident with the establishment and increase in the coyote population. Second, data sets from the Savannah River Site (SRS) in South Carolina indicate a new mortality source affecting the deer population concurrent with the increase in coyotes. Third, an index of deer recruitment at SRS declined during the period of increase in coyotes. Fourth, food habits data from SRS indicate that fawns are an important food item for coyotes during summer. Finally, recent research from Alabama documented significant coyote predation on fawns there. Although this evidence does not establish cause and effect between coyotes and observed declines in deer recruitment, we argue that additional research should proactively address this topic in the region. We identified several important questions on the nature of the deer–coyote relationship in the East.
Harvest of furbearers through trapping has been challenged by anti-trapping organizations for centuries, with organizational goals often including prohibition of all forms of trapping. Challenges to trapping may also include dissention among state wildlife agencies, pro-hunting organizations, and pro-trapping organizations. Despite recent efforts by anti-trapping organizations and occasional dissention among consumptive-use groups, national trends in snaring regulations included less restrictive regulations through time. This positive trend may offer opportunities for state wildlife agencies and pro-trapping organizations to enhance the public image of trapping, increase recruitment of trappers, and reverse the increasing trend of wildlife damage and associated costs. We offer support and suggestions to state wildlife agencies and pro-trapping organizations to help achieve these goals, with their partnership likely having a synergistic effect. Although we attempt to illuminate approaches for increasing support for trapping within the constraints of the cultural norms of the United States, we hope our approaches are useful to and promote dialogue in other jurisdictions experiencing similar problems.
In accordance with federal regulations, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service developed a postdelisting monitoring plan for the bald eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) designed to detect a change in the number of occupied nests on a national scale. The plan employs a dual-frame approach to the survey design where a list frame (list of known nests) and an area frame (set of survey plots) are used in concert to estimate the number of occupied nests in 5-year intervals over a 20-year period. The plan offers no provisions for changes in list-frame integrity, nor does it contemplate the impact of such changes on survey performance. We used a long-term data set to quantify occupancy patterns for nests in Virginia, USA, and evaluated their influence on integrity of the list frame and performance of the proposed dual-frame monitoring approach. The average annual turnover rate for nests was 0.261, resulting in a rapid decay of the list frame. Decay of the list frame leads to a functional collapse of the dual-frame approach, down to the area-frame survey alone, early within the monitoring time horizon. This early decay of the list frame implies that the area-frame coverage needed to maintain the same statistical power as stated in the monitoring plan would have to be increased by a factor of 3 to 5 beyond that recommended in the current plan. Remedies for this deficiency undermine the cost benefit associated with inclusion of the list frame. We examined response of the dual-frame survey to variation in nest turnover rates and population growth rates and defined a state space where time to collapse is beyond the proposed 20-year time horizon. Because, under realistic estimates of turnover rates, the dual-frame approach collapses to the area frame within the proposed monitoring window, we recommend that the costs of list-frame maintenance be included in the procedure to optimize allocation of survey effort.
Although habitat attributes of black-tailed prairie dog (Cynomys ludovicianus) colonies have been described for central and northern portions of the species' geographic range, little is known about these associations at the southern edge of this species' distribution. Because high-quality habitats are expected to be scarcer at the edge of the species' geographic range, different patterns of habitat selection might emerge in these populations. We analyzed habitat selection by black-tailed prairie dogs in a human-disturbed mosaic of desert grasslands and shrublands in northwestern Chihuahua, Mexico. We contrasted 151 used and 133 unused habitat units producing 11 case-control logistic regression models to explain site occupancy by prairie dogs with different combinations of environmental variables. Prairie dogs from Chihuahua occupy sites similar in most respects to sites in more northern regions, although these prairie dogs appear to be more tolerant of increased shrub density and reduced herbage cover. We found that site occupancy was best modeled by positive effects of soil moisture level, cover of forbs, cover of unpalatable vegetation, cover of bare ground, and amount of prairie-dog colony area within 1 km and by the inverse of altitude, shrub density, herbage height, and amount of hostile habitat within 1 km. The 2 most significant variables were herbage height and shrub density, which might reflect the prominent role that visibility plays in habitat selection by prairie dogs. In contrast, we found weak evidence that human features have significant impacts on site occupancy by prairie dogs. Our results support the prediction that environmental conditions of sites used by prairie dogs in edge regions partially differ from those observed in more northern latitudes. We suggest that reserve managers focus conservation efforts on areas with short vegetation, low density of shrubs, and high herbage cover, conditions that could be promoted by controlled burns, herbage mowing, and mechanical removal of shrubs.
Long-term monitoring programs must use informative yet cost-effective methods. Occupancy estimates that incorporate detection probabilities are used with increasing frequency to describe species status and make management recommendations. Estimating changes in the occupancy of points over time in response to management actions or environmental changes may be especially useful for management of the Palm Springs round-tailed ground squirrel (Spermophilus tereticaudus chlorus), a subspecies covered under the Coachella Valley Multiple Species Habitat Conservation Plan and Natural Community Conservation Plan. In 2002 and 2003, we estimated occupancy and detection probability of ground squirrels across lands modeled as ground squirrel habitat by the Scientific Advisory Committee for the Habitat Conservation Plan and tested a priori hypotheses about how occupancy varied among vegetation and substrate types. In the 2003 study, we asked whether these associations were affected by winter rains after the 2002 drought year. Occupancy in 2003 was estimated at 0.99 ( = 0.01) in Western honey mesquite (Prosopis glandulosa) on dunes and hummocks, and occupancy of the remaining modeled habitat was best described by distance to mesquite, with the occupancy probability decreasing with increasing distance from mesquite on dunes or hummocks. The best-supported model in 2002 described the distribution of ground squirrels as a function of only vegetation and substrate type. However, the best-supported models in 2003 suggested that distance to mesquite was a component of the occupancy of non-mesquite vegetation. Mesquite seems to provide high-quality habitat that can support ground squirrels at high occupancy probabilities that may breed successfully every year. In contrast, other vegetation types provide low-quality habitat that can only support ground squirrels at low occupancy probabilities that may only breed occasionally. Mesquite could be an essential refugium during drought years, and the 4 best-supported models in 2003 suggest that restoration of mesquite beginning near currently occupied mesquite patches could be critical for maintaining ground squirrel populations on the preserves.
Recently, a number of papers have addressed the use of pedigrees in the study of wild populations, highlighting the value of pedigrees in conservation management. We used pedigrees to study the horses (Equus caballus) of Assateague Island National Seashore, Maryland, USA, one of a small number of free-ranging animal populations that have been the subject of long-term studies. This population grew from 28 in 1968 to 175 in 2001, causing negative impacts on the island ecosystem. To minimize these effects, an immunocontraception program was instituted, and horse numbers are slowly decreasing. However, there is concern that this program may negatively affect the genetic health of the herd. We found that although mitochondrial DNA diversity is low, nuclear diversity is comparable to that of established breeds. Using genetic data, we verified and amended maternal pedigrees that had been primarily based on behavioral data and inferred paternity using genetic data along with National Park Service records of the historic ranges of males. The resulting pedigrees enabled us to examine demography, founder contributions, rates of inbreeding and loss of diversity over recent generations, as well as the level of kinship among horses. We then evaluated the strategy of removing individuals (using nonlethal means) with the highest mean kinship values. Although the removal strategy increased the retained diversity of founders and decreased average kinship between individuals, it disproportionately impacted sizes of the youngest age classes. Our results suggest that a combined strategy of controlled breeding and immunocontraception would be more effective than removing individuals with high mean kinships in preserving the long-term health and viability of the herd.
Recent work suggests that availability and quality of forage in late summer and early autumn, a time when female ungulates face multiple energetic demands, is critical to reproduction in wild ungulates. Therefore, we examined direct links between nutritional quality of diets, body condition, and reproduction of lactating mule deer. Using captive mule deer, we tested the hypothesis that females consuming diets with lower digestible energy (DE; kJ/g) would have lower DE intake rates (DEI; MJ/day), have less body fat and muscle, have later estrus cycles, and have lower pregnancy and twinning rates. Deer fed lower DE diets had lower DEI during summer and autumn. In turn, deer with lower DEI, regardless of diet DE, had lower body mass, body fat, and muscle thickness. When nutritional quality of diets began to decline earlier in the summer, relationships between food quality, DEI, and body condition were stronger. Although DEI did not influence estrus date for deer that became pregnant before 21 December, deer with lower DEI had a lower probability of becoming pregnant and had a lower probability of producing twins. Measures of body condition in October (i.e., body mass, body fat, and muscle depth) predicted pregnancy and twinning rates in mule deer. Serum concentration of hormones leptin and Insulin Growth Factor 1 were not good predictors of body condition or reproduction. These findings suggest that managers concerned with productivity of mule deer populations should consider focusing on assessing and improving quality of forage available in summer and autumn.
White-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) thrive in fragmented exurban habitats, resulting in increased occurrences of deer–human conflicts. To develop successful management regimes managers must understand exurban deer ecology, an area deficient in current literature. We investigated exurban white-tailed deer spatial ecology on Fair Hill Natural Resource Management Area in Cecil County, Maryland, USA. From June 2004 to January 2006, we collected 37,384 telemetry locations and 1,194 visual observations on 66 radiocollared female white-tailed deer to investigate seasonal home range sizes, home range fidelity, and hourly movement rates. Annual adaptive-kernel home range size ranged from 8.1 ha to 21.7 ha and 70.9 ha to 144.5 ha among seasons (early, middle, and late-hunting, posthunting, and fawning) at the 50% and 95% utilization distributions, respectively. Seasonal home range size generally increased from the fawning through posthunting seasons. Seasonal home range overlap differed at 50% and 95% utilization distributions, with the least overlap occurring between the posthunting and fawning seasons (50%: x ¯ = 19.4%, 95%: x ¯ = 33.3%). Circadian activity varied among seasons with dusk movement rates greatest in all seasons. Our results suggest that this exurban white-tailed deer population resided on similar ranges throughout the year, making individuals available for harvest during traditional harvest seasons. To maximize deer–hunter contact, efforts should be focused around the dusk activity period to coincide with peak deer activity.
Provision of supplemental feed to large herbivores is a common management practice that may motivate selective foraging, thereby influencing plant community composition. Our objective was to assess the effect of a high-quality supplement on diet composition and nutritional quality for white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus). We permanently released hand-reared deer into 4 81-ha enclosures; in 2 enclosures we provided a pelleted supplement. We conducted bite-count studies seasonally to assess diet composition and quality. Supplemented deer reduced mast (fruits and pods of woody plants and cacti) in their diets (P < 0.019) during spring and autumn compared to unsupplemented deer. Diets of deer in supplemented enclosures had 2 times greater proportion of browse during spring (P = 0.065) and 5 times greater proportion of forbs during autumn (P = 0.007). Quality of the forage portion of the diet did not vary by treatment during winter or summer. Metabolizable energy concentration was 13% greater (P = 0.054) in spring and digestible protein content was 3 times greater (P = 0.006) during autumn in diets of supplemented compared to unsupplemented deer. Our results support the selective foraging hypothesis during autumn but not during winter, spring, or summer. Furthermore, white-tailed deer did not reduce the proportion of their diet composed of browse, but did reduce consumption of mast. Supplemented deer continued to eat poor-quality, chemically defended forage, perhaps to alleviate ruminal acidosis induced by the supplement or because nutrients in the supplement increased the deer's ability to detoxify chemically defended browses. A decline in mast consumption by supplemented deer could influence plant communities, depending on the role of deer in seed dispersal and seed predation. Impacts of supplemental feed on selective foraging of white-tailed deer in shrub-dominated rangelands are more complex than suggested by previous research. Long-term studies of vegetation communities are needed before wildlife managers will be able to fully incorporate effects of supplemental feed into management decisions.
Herbicides, commonly used for vegetation management in intensively managed pine (Pinus spp.) forests of the southeastern United States, with and without fire, may alter availability of quality forage for white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus; deer), an economically and socially important game species in North America. Because greater forage quality yields greater deer growth and productivity and intensively managed pine forests are common in the southeastern United States, forest managers would benefit from an understanding of fire and herbicide effects on forage availability to improve habitat conditions for deer. Therefore, we evaluated independent and combined effects of fire and herbicide (i.e., imazapyr) on forage biomass and deer nutritional carrying capacity (CC) on land owned and managed by Weyerhaeuser NR Company in east-central Mississippi, USA. We used a randomized complete block design of 6 pine plantations (blocks) divided into 4 10-ha treatment plots to each of which we randomly assigned a treatment (burn-only, herbicide-only, burn herbicide, and control). We estimated biomass (kg/ha) of moderate- and high-use deer forage plants during July of 1999–2008, then estimated CC for diets to support either body maintenance (6% crude protein) or lactation (14% crude protein) with a nutritional constraints model. Herbaceous forages responded positively to fire and herbicide application. In most years, CC estimates for maintenance and lactation were greater in burn herbicide than in controls. Maintenance-level CC was always greater in burn herbicide than in controls, except at 1 year posttreatment. Burn herbicide was 2.6–8.3 times greater (x ¯ = 4.0) than control for lactation-level CC in 8 of 9 years posttreatment. We recommend fire and selective herbicides to increase high-quality deer forage in mid-rotation, intensively managed pine plantations.
North temperate species on the southern edge of their distribution are especially at risk to climate-induced changes. One such species is the moose (Alces alces), whose continental United States distribution is restricted to northern states or northern portions of the Rocky Mountain cordillera. We used a series of matrix models to evaluate the demographic implications of estimated survival and reproduction schedules for a moose population in northeastern Minnesota, USA, between 2002 and 2008. We used data from a telemetry study to calculate adult survival rates and estimated calf survival and fertility of adult females by using results of helicopter surveys. Estimated age- and year-specific survival rates showed a sinusoidal temporal pattern during our study and were lower for younger and old-aged animals. Estimates of annual adult survival (when assumed to be constant for ages >1.7 yr old) ranged from 0.74 to 0.85. Annual calf survival averaged 0.40, and the annual ratio of calves born to radiocollared females averaged 0.78. Point estimates for the finite rate of increase (λ) from yearly matrices ranged from 0.67 to 0.98 during our 6-year study, indicative of a long-term declining population. Assuming each matrix to be equally likely to occur in the future, we estimated a long-term stochastic growth rate of 0.85. Even if heat stress is not responsible for current levels of survival, continuation of this growth rate will ultimately result in a northward shift of the southern edge of moose distribution. Population growth rate, and its uncertainty, was most sensitive to changes in estimated adult survival rates. The relative importance of adult survival to population viability has important implications for harvest of large herbivores and the collection of information on wildlife fertility.
In ungulates, big males with large weapons typically outcompete other males over access to estrous females. In many species, rapid early growth leads to large adult mass and weapon size. We compared males in one hunted and one protected population of Alpine chamois (Rupicapra rupicapra) to examine the relationship between horn length and body mass. We assessed whether early development and hunter selectivity affected age-specific patterns of body and horn size and whether sport hunting could be an artificial selection pressure favoring smaller horns. Adult horn length was mostly independent of body mass. For adult males, the coefficient of variation of horn length (0.06) was <50% of that for body mass (0.16), suggesting that horn length presents a lower potential for selection and may be less important for male mating success than is body mass. Surprisingly, early development did not affect adult mass because of apparent compensatory growth. We found few differences in body and horn size between hunted and protected populations, suggesting the absence of strong effects of hunting on male phenotype. If horn length has a limited role in male reproductive success, hunter selectivity for males with longer horns is unlikely to lead to an artificial selective pressure on horn size. These results imply that the potential evolutionary effects of selective hunting depend on how the characteristics selected by hunters affect individual reproductive success.
To investigate the role of black-backed jackals (Canis mesomelas) as predators, we studied diet, prey selection, and predation impact of jackals on 2 game ranches in South Africa that differed in ungulate diversity and biomass. Results showed that large (>15 kg) ungulate species dominated jackal diets throughout the year on both the less diverse (range of ingested biomass across seasons = 39–78%) and more diverse (26–69%) game ranch. Other important food items included medium-sized mammals (1–3 kg; 1–26%) and fruit (2–69%), whereas small mammals comprised 3–11% of ingested biomass across seasons on both sites. Jackals were not random in consumption of ungulates, and consumption patterns suggested jackals actively hunted certain species rather than consumed them as carrion. During ungulate birthing periods, jackals consumed almost exclusively those ungulate species that were hiders (i.e., fawns were hidden in tall vegetation away from herd) regardless of ungulate densities, suggesting that primarily fawns were preyed upon. Among hiders, there was a negative relationship (P = 0.01) between body size and percent of population consumed by jackals, indicating smaller species were more susceptible than larger species to jackal predation. Consequently, springbok (Antidorcas marsupialis) were always selected over other ungulate species on both sites, and this species was the most impacted by jackal predation. In contrast, ungulate species that were followers (i.e., fawns immediately followed mothers within protection of the herd) were scarcely or not at all consumed by jackals, regardless of body size or density. Medium-sized mammals were selectively consumed over ungulates, and there was a negative relationship (P < 0.01) between consumption of berries and ungulates, indicating alternative food resources influenced consumption of ungulates on our study sites. Our results will help wildlife managers in Africa identify ungulate species susceptible to jackal predation, and can be used to develop management strategies for reducing jackal predation in areas where it is problematic.
We used rendezvous site locations of wolf (Canis lupus) packs recorded during 1996–2006 to build a predictive model of gray wolf rendezvous site habitat in Idaho, USA. Variables in our best model included green leaf biomass (Normalized Difference Vegetation Index), surface roughness, and profile curvature, indicating that wolves consistently used wet meadow complexes for rendezvous sites. We then used this predictive model to stratify habitat and guide survey efforts designed to document wolf pack distribution and fecundity in 4 study areas in Idaho. We detected all 15 wolf packs (32 wolf pack-yr) and 20 out of 27 (74%) litters of pups by surveying <11% of the total study area. In addition, we were able to obtain detailed observations on wolf packs (e.g., hair and scat samples) once we located their rendezvous sites. Given an expected decrease in the ability of managers to maintain radiocollar contact with all of the wolf packs in the northern Rocky Mountains, rendezvous sites predicted by our model can be the starting point and foundation for targeted sampling and future wolf population monitoring surveys.
Traditional methods of monitoring gray wolves (Canis lupus) are expensive and invasive and require extensive efforts to capture individual animals. Noninvasive genetic sampling (NGS) is an alternative method that can provide data to answer management questions and complement already-existing methods. In a 2-year study, we tested this approach for Idaho gray wolves in areas of known high and low wolf density. To focus sampling efforts across a large study area and increase our chances of detecting reproductive packs, we visited 964 areas with landscape characteristics similar to known wolf rendezvous sites. We collected scat or hair samples from 20% of sites and identified 122 wolves, using 8–9 microsatellite loci. We used the minimum count of wolves to accurately detect known differences in wolf density. Maximum likelihood and Bayesian single-session population estimators performed similarly and accurately estimated the population size, compared with a radiotelemetry population estimate, in both years, and an average of 1.7 captures per individual were necessary for achieving accurate population estimates. Subsampling scenarios revealed that both scat and hair samples were important for achieving accurate population estimates, but visiting 75% and 50% of the sites still gave reasonable estimates and reduced costs. Our research provides managers with an efficient and accurate method for monitoring high-density and low-density wolf populations in remote areas.
Mourning doves (Zenaida macroura) are surveyed in North America with a Call-Count Survey (CCS) and the North American Breeding Bird Survey (BBS). Analyses in recent years have identified inconsistencies in results between surveys, and a need exists to analyze the surveys using modern methods and examine possible causes of differences in survey results. Call-Count Survey observers collect separate information on number of doves heard and number of doves seen during counting, whereas BBS observers record one index containing all doves observed. We used hierarchical log-linear models to estimate trend and annual indices of abundance for 1966–2007 from BBS data, CCS-heard data, and CCS-seen data. Trend estimates from analyses provided inconsistent results for several states and for eastern and central dove-management units. We examined differential effects of change in land use and noise-related disturbance on the CCS indices. Changes in noise-related disturbance along CCS routes had a larger influence on the heard index than on the seen index, but association analyses among states of changes in temperature and of amounts of developed land suggest that CCS indices are differentially influenced by changes in these environmental features. Our hierarchical model should be used to estimate population change from dove surveys, because it provides an efficient framework for estimating population trends from dove indices while controlling for environmental features that differentially influence the indices.
We examined results from the first national-scale effort to estimate mourning dove (Zenaida macroura) age ratios and developed a simple, efficient, and generalizable methodology for calibrating estimates. Our method predicted age classes of unknown-age wings based on backward projection of molt distributions from fall harvest collections to preseason banding. We estimated 1) the proportion of late-molt individuals in each age class, and 2) the molt rates of juvenile and adult birds. Monte Carlo simulations demonstrated our estimator was minimally biased. We estimated model parameters using 96,811 wings collected from hunters and 42,189 birds banded during preseason from 68 collection blocks in 22 states during the 2005–2007 hunting seasons. We also used estimates to derive a correction factor, based on latitude and longitude of samples, which can be applied to future surveys. We estimated differential vulnerability of age classes to harvest using data from banded birds and applied that to harvest age ratios to estimate population age ratios. Average, uncorrected age ratio of known-age wings for states that allow hunting was 2.25 (SD 0.85) juveniles∶adult, and average, corrected ratio was 1.91 (SD 0.68), as determined from harvest age ratios from an independent sample of 41,084 wings collected from random hunters in 2007 and 2008. We used an independent estimate of differential vulnerability to adjust corrected harvest age ratios and estimated the average population age ratio as 1.45 (SD 0.52), a direct measure of recruitment rates. Average annual recruitment rates were highest east of the Mississippi River and in the northwestern United States, with lower rates between. Our results demonstrate a robust methodology for calibrating recruitment estimates for mourning doves and represent the first large-scale estimates of recruitment for the species. Our methods can be used by managers to correct future harvest survey data to generate recruitment estimates for use in formulating harvest management strategies.
In sagebrush–steppe and other open habitats, power lines can provide perches for raptors and other birds in areas where few natural perches previously existed, with potential negative impacts for nearby prey species, such as greater sage-grouse (Centrocercus urophasianus). Between September 2006 and August 2007, we used driving surveys, behavioral-observation surveys, and prey-remains surveys to assess the ability of perch-deterrent devices to minimize raptor and common raven (Corvus corax) activity on a recently constructed transmission line in southwestern Wyoming. All survey methods demonstrated that activity was significantly lower on the deterrent line compared with a nearby control line; however, deterrent devices did not entirely prevent perching. Considering use of cross-arms or pole-tops alone, we sighted 42 raptors and ravens on the deterrent line and 551 on the control line during 192 driving surveys of each line. Golden eagles (Aquila chrysaetos) and ravens were the species most commonly observed successfully overcoming deterrent devices. Smaller rough-legged hawks (Buteo lagopus) regularly avoided deterrents by perching on conductors (i.e., wires). We documented much off-line activity near both survey lines and suggest that fewer birds near the deterrent line likely reflected reduced availability of nearby alternate perches. There was a pronounced winter peak in on-line perch use, with the effect more evident on the control line. Behavior surveys corroborated our driving-survey results but were otherwise unproductive. During 549 prey-remains surveys of each line, we found 9 single and 60 grouped prey items near deterrent-line poles, compared with 277 single and 467 grouped items near control-line poles. We observed few sage-grouse in the study area but did witness a likely power line–related, raptor-caused sage-grouse mortality. Overall, our results suggest that perch-deterrent devices can reduce raptor and raven activity on power-line structures, but to determine their utility on entire power-line segments, we suggest managers consider 1) what level of reduction in perch activity is worth the cost, and 2) the availability of alternate perches in the surrounding landscape.
For comparing impacts of bird and bat collisions with wind turbines, investigators estimate fatalities/megawatt (MW) of rated capacity/year, based on periodic carcass searches and trials used to estimate carcasses not found due to scavenger removal and searcher error. However, scavenger trials typically place ≥10 carcasses at once within small areas already supplying scavengers with carcasses deposited by wind turbines, so scavengers may be unable to process and remove all placed carcasses. To avoid scavenger swamping, which might bias fatality estimates low, we placed only 1–5 bird carcasses at a time amongst 52 wind turbines in our 249.7-ha study area, each carcass monitored by a motion-activated camera. Scavengers removed 50 of 63 carcasses, averaging 4.45 days to the first scavenging event. By 15 days, which corresponded with most of our search intervals, scavengers removed 0% and 67% of large-bodied raptors placed in winter and summer, respectively, and 15% and 71% of small birds placed in winter and summer, respectively. By 15 days, scavengers removed 42% of large raptors as compared to 15% removed in conventional trials, and scavengers removed 62% of small birds as compared to 52% removed in conventional trials. Based on our methodology, we estimated mean annual fatalities caused by 21.9 MW of wind turbines in Vasco Caves Regional Preserve (within Altamont Pass Wind Resource Area, California, USA) were 13 red-tailed hawks (Buteo jamaicensis), 12 barn owls (Tyto alba), 18 burrowing owls (Athene cunicularia), 48 total raptors, and 99 total birds. Compared to fatality rates estimated from conventional scavenger trials, our estimates were nearly 3 times higher for red-tailed hawk and barn owl, 68% higher for all raptors, and 67% higher for all birds. We also found that deaths/gigawatt-hour of power generation declined quickly with increasing capacity factor among wind turbines, indicating collision hazard increased with greater intermittency in turbine operations. Fatality monitoring at wind turbines might improve by using scavenger removal trials free of scavenger swamping and by relating fatality rates to power output data in addition to rated capacity (i.e., turbine size). The resulting greater precision in mortality estimates will assist wildlife managers to assess wind farm impacts and to more accurately measure the effects of mitigation measures implemented to lessen those impacts.
Within forests susceptible to wildfire and insect infestations, land managers need to balance dead tree removal and habitat requirements for wildlife species associated with snags. We used Mahalanobis distance methods to develop predictive models of white-headed woodpecker (Picoides albolarvatus) nesting habitat in postfire ponderosa pine (Pinus ponderosa)-dominated landscapes on the Fremont-Winema National Forests in south central Oregon, USA. The 1-km radius (314 ha) surrounding 45 nest sites was open-canopied before fire and a mosaic of burn severities after wildfire. The 1-ha surrounding nests of white-headed woodpeckers had fewer live trees per hectare and more decayed and larger diameter snags than at non-nest sites. The leading cause of nest failure seemed to be predation. Habitat and abiotic features were not associated with nest survival. High daily survival rates and little variation within habitat features among nest locations suggest white-headed woodpeckers were consistently selecting high suitability habitats. Management activities that open the forest canopy and create conditions conducive to a mosaic burn pattern will probably provide suitable white-headed woodpecker nesting habitat after wildfire. When making postfire salvage logging decisions, we suggest that retention of larger, more decayed snags will provide nesting habitat in recently burned forests.
Our objective was to determine whether there were subpopulations within the eastern population of tundra swans (Cygnus columbianus columbianus) wintering along the mid-Atlantic coast. Movement rates between regions were substantial enough to result in continual mixing of wintering birds. Thus, we were unable to identify distinct subpopulations based on exclusive use of specific wintering areas. These birds should therefore be monitored, and their harvest managed, as if they were one population.
The Mahalanobis distance statistic (D2) has emerged as an effective tool to identify suitable habitat from presence data alone, but there has been no mechanism to select among potential habitat covariates. We propose that the best combination of explanatory variables for a D2 model can be identified by ranking potential models based on the proportion of the entire study area that is classified as potentially suitable habitat given that a predetermined proportion of occupied locations are correctly classified. In effect, our approach seeks to minimize errors of commission, or maximize specificity, while holding the omission error rate constant. We used this approach to identify potentially suitable habitat for the Olympic marmot (Marmota olympus), a declining species endemic to Olympic National Park, Washington, USA. We compared models built with all combinations of 11 habitat variables. A 7-variable model identified 21,143 ha within the park as potentially suitable for marmots, correctly classifying 80% of occupied locations. Additional refinements to the 7-variable model (e.g., eliminating small patches) further reduced the predicted area to 18,579 ha with little reduction in predictive power. Although we sought a model that would allow field workers to find 80% of Olympic marmot locations, in fact, <3% of 376 occupied locations and <9% of abandoned locations were >100 m from habitat predicted by the final model, suggesting that >90% of occupied marmot habitat could be found by observant workers surveying predicted habitat. The model comparison procedure allowed us to identify the suite of covariates that maximized specificity of our model and, thus, limited the amount of less favorable habitat included in the final prediction area. We expect that by maximizing specificity of models built from presence-only data, our model comparison procedure will be useful to conservation practitioners planning reintroductions, searching for rare species, or identifying habitat for protection.
We assessed whether use of 2 methods, intensive very high frequency (VHF) radiotelemetry and Global Positioning System (GPS) cluster sampling, yielded similar estimates of cougar (Puma concolor) kill rates in Yellowstone National Park, 1998–2005. We additionally determined biases (underestimation or overestimation of rates) resulting from each method. We used modeling to evaluate what characteristics of clusters best predicted a kill versus no kill and further evaluated which predictor(s) minimized effort and the number of missed kills. We conducted 16 VHF ground predation sequences resulting in 37 kill intervals (KIs) and 21 GPS sequences resulting in 84 KIs on 6 solitary adult females, 4 maternal females, and 5 adult males. Kill rates (days/kill and biomass [kg] killed/day) did not differ between VHF and GPS predation sampling methods for maternal females, solitary adult females, and adult males. Sixteen of 142 (11.3%) kills detected via GPS clusters were missed through VHF ground-based sampling, and the kill rate was underestimated by an average of 5.2 (95% CI = 3.8–6.6) days/kill over all cougar social classes. Five of 142 (3.5%) kills identified by GPS cluster sampling were incorrectly identified as the focal individual's kill from scavenging, and the kill rate was overestimated within the adult male social class by an average of 5.8 (95% CI = 3.0–8.5) days/ungulate kill. The number of nights (locations between 2000 hours and 0500 hours) a cougar spent at a cluster was the most efficient variable at predicting predation, minimizing the missed kills, and minimizing number of extra clusters that needed to be searched. In Yellowstone National Park, where competing carnivores displaced cougars from their kills, it was necessary to search extra sites where a kill may not have been present to ensure we did not miss small, ungulate prey kills or kills with displacement. Using predictions from models to assign unvisited clusters as no kill, small prey kill, or large prey kill can bias downward the number of kills a cougar made and bias upward kills made by competitors that displace cougars or scavenge cougar kills. Our findings emphasize that field visitation is crucial in determining displacement and scavenging events that can result in biases when using GPS cluster methods in multicarnivore systems.
Traditional index-based techniques have indicated declines in Rio Grande wild turkey (Meleagris gallopavo intermedia; hereafter, wild turkey) populations across much of Texas, USA. However, population indices can be unreliable. Research has indicated that road-based surveys may be an efficacious technique for monitoring wild turkey populations on an ecoregion level. Therefore, our goal was to evaluate applicability of road-based distance sampling in the Cross Timbers, Edwards Plateau, Rolling Plains, and South Texas ecoregions of Texas. We conducted road-based surveys in each ecoregion during December 2007–March 2008 to estimate wild turkey flock encounter rates and to determine survey effort (i.e., km of roads) required to obtain adequate sample sizes for distance sampling in each ecoregion. With simulations using inflatable turkey decoys, we also evaluated effects of distance to a flock, flock size, and vegetative cover on turkey flock detectability. Encounter rates of wild turkey flocks from road-based surveys varied from 0.1 (95% CI = 0.0–0.6) to 2.2 (95% CI = 0.8–6.0) flocks/100 km surveyed. Encounter rates from surveys restricted to riparian communities (i.e., areas ≤1 km from a river or stream) varied from 0.2 (95% CI = 0.1–0.6) to 2.9 (95% CI = 1.5–6.7) flocks/100 km surveyed. Flock detection probabilities from field simulations ranged from 22.5% (95% CI = 16.3–29.8%) to 25.0% (95% CI = 13.6–39.6%). Flock detection probabilities were lower than expected in all 4 ecoregions, which resulted in low encounter rates. Estimated survey effort required to obtain adequate sample sizes for distance sampling ranged from 2,765 km (95% CI = 2,597–2,956 km) in the Edwards Plateau to 37,153 km (95% CI = 12,861–107,329 km) in South Texas. When we restricted road-based surveys to riparian communities, estimated survey effort ranged from 2,222 km (95% CI = 2,092–2,370 km) in the Edwards Plateau to 22,222 km (95% CI = 19,782–25,349 km) in South Texas.
The jaguar (Panthera onca) and puma (Puma concolor) are the largest felids of the American Continent and live in sympatry along most of their distribution. Their tracks are frequently used for research and management purposes, but tracks are difficult to distinguish from each other and can be confused with those of big canids. We used tracks from pumas, jaguars, large dogs, and maned wolves (Chrysocyon brachyurus) to evaluate traditional qualitative and quantitative identification methods and to elaborate multivariate methods to differentiate big canids versus big felids and puma versus jaguar tracks (n = 167 tracks from 18 zoos). We tested accuracy of qualitative classification through an identification exercise with field-experienced volunteers. Qualitative methods were useful but there was high variability in accuracy of track identification. Most of the traditional quantitative methods showed an elevated percentage of misclassified tracks (≥20%). We used stepwise discriminant function analysis to develop 3 discriminant models: 1 for big canid versus big felid track identification and 2 alternative models for jaguar versus puma track differentiation using 1) best discriminant variables, and 2) size-independent variables. These models had high classification performance, with <10% of error in the validation procedures. We used simpler discriminant models in the elaboration of identification keys to facilitate track classification process. We developed an accurate method for track identification, capable of distinguishing between big felids (puma and jaguar) and large canids (dog and maned wolf) tracks and between jaguar and puma tracks. Application of our method will allow a more reliable use of tracks in puma and jaguar research and it will help managers using tracks as indicators of these felids' presence for conservation or management purposes.
Standard track tube designs are ineffective for long-term monitoring of beach mice (Peromyscus polionotus) largely because of blowing sand and rain in the coastal dune habitat. We developed a novel track tube design with the tube elevated, capped on one end, and covered on the other end with a short 90° elbow tube. We tested this tube design against 2 other designs (elevated and ground). Our elevated 90° elbow track tubes detected beach mouse tracks more often and they were disturbed less frequently than elevated or ground tubes. Elevated 90° elbow track tubes are a practical means for managers to conduct long-term monitoring of beach mouse populations.
Wildlife managers traditionally monitored lesser prairie-chicken (Tympanuchus pallidicinctus) populations using road-based lek surveys and assumed booming can be heard ≥1.6 km from a lek. To assess this assumption, we measured sound intensity (decibels) of booming lesser prairie-chickens. Our results indicated sound intensity 1.6 km from a lek would be less than or equal to the sound intensity of a whisper. Thus, 1.6 km is probably too great a distance for audible detection of booming in many conditions.
The expansion of coyotes (Canis latrans) into the northeastern United States is a major challenge to wildlife professionals, especially in suburban and urban areas where reports of human–coyote interaction (HCI) are on the rise. To assist wildlife professionals in identifying potential hot spots of interaction and homeowners in evaluating their risk of a backyard encounter, we used the techniques of citizen science to build a landscape model of HCI for suburban residential properties in Westchester County, New York, USA. We distributed surveys via school children (kindergarten to grade 12) as part of a voluntary class assignment, to maximize the number of homeowners participating in our study and to provide learning experiences for students. Of 6,000 surveys distributed to schools, >1,500 students interviewed their parents on whether a coyote had been seen or heard on their property from 2003 to 2006. Although surveys could not be distributed randomly owing to the participatory process of individual schools, we did receive responses from across Westchester County, representing the spectrum from the most rural to the most urban towns. Homeowners who encountered (i.e., seen or heard) a coyote on their property were on average 50% closer to forest, 36% closer to grassland, and 66% farther from medium- to high-intensity development, complementing existing knowledge on urban coyote habitat use. Our model seemed robust in predicting an independent set of coyote observations (r = 0.88). Based on this model, we generated a map describing the probability of HCI that can be used by both wildlife professionals and homeowners. Regarding the former, state wildlife agencies could more precisely target education campaigns on how to live with coyotes where the possibility of HCI was greatest. Homeowners, in turn, could evaluate their own risk and modify behaviors that would make their property less attractive to coyotes. Furthermore, in creating a descriptive model of HCI from citizen-generated data, we demonstrated how citizen science can be a useful exploratory tool, generating a wealth of data over a large geographic area in a short period, especially when the inquest is appropriate to stakeholder participation in data collection.