Comparison of statistical population reconstruction using full and pooled adult age-class data

John R. Skalski, Joshua J. Millspaugh, Michael V. Clawson

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    Abstract

    Background: Age-at-harvest data are among the most commonly collected, yet neglected, demographic data gathered by wildlife agencies. Statistical population construction techniques can use this information to estimate the abundance of wild populations over wide geographic areas and concurrently estimate recruitment, harvest, and natural survival rates. Although current reconstruction techniques use full age-class data (0.5, 1.5, 2.5, 3.5,.. years), it is not always possible to determine an animal's age due to inaccuracy of the methods, expense, and logistics of sample collection. The ability to inventory wild populations would be greatly expanded if pooled adult age-class data (e.g., 0.5, 1.5, 2.5+ years) could be successfully used in statistical population reconstruction. Methodology/Principal Findings: We investigated the performance of statistical population reconstruction models developed to analyze full age-class and pooled adult age-class data. We performed Monte Carlo simulations using a stochastic version of a Leslie matrix model, which generated data over a wide range of abundance levels, harvest rates, and natural survival probabilities, representing medium-to-big game species. Results of full age-class and pooled adult age-class population reconstructions were compared for accuracy and precision. No discernible difference in accuracy was detected, but precision was slightly reduced when using the pooled adult age-class reconstruction. On average, the coefficient of variation (i.e., SE(θ̂)/θ) increased by 0.059 when the adult age-class data were pooled prior to analyses. The analyses and maximum likelihood model for pooled adult age-class reconstruction are illustrated for a black-tailed deer (Odocoileus hemionus) population in Washington State. Conclusions/Significance: Inventorying wild populations is one of the greatest challenges of wildlife agencies. These new statistical population reconstruction models should expand the demographic capabilities of wildlife agencies that have already collected pooled adult age-class data or are seeking a cost-effective method for monitoring the status and trends of our wild resources.

    Original languageEnglish
    Article numbere33910
    JournalPLoS ONE
    Volume7
    Issue number3
    DOIs
    StatePublished - Mar 28 2012

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