Pellet count indices compared to mark-recapture for evaluating snowshoe hare density

L. Scott Mills, Paul C. Griffin, Karen E. Hodges, Kevin McKelvey, Len Ruggiero, Todd Ulizio

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58 Scopus citations


Snowshoe hares (Lepus americanus) undergo remarkable cycles and are the primary prey base of Canada lynx (Lynx canadensis), a carnivore recently listed as threatened in the contiguous United States. Efforts to evaluate hare densities using pellets have traditionally been based on regression equations developed in the Yukon, Canada. In western Montana, we evaluated whether or not local regression equations performed better than the most recent Yukon equation and assessed whether there was concordance between pellet-based predictions and mark-recapture density estimates of hares. We developed local Montana regression equations based on 224 data points consisting of mark-recapture estimates and pellet counts, derived from 38 sites in 2 different areas sampled for 1 to 5 years using 2 different pellet plot shapes. We evaluated concordance between estimated density and predicted density based on pellet counts coupled with regression equations at 436 site-area-season combinations different from those used to develop the regression equations. At densities below 0.3 hares/ha, predicted density based on pellets tended to be greater than for mark-recapture; the difference was usually <1 hare per ha on an absolute scale, but at low densities this translated to proportional differences of 1,000% or greater. At densities above 0.7 hares/ha, pellet regressions tended to predict lower density than mark-recapture. Because local regression equations did not outperform the Yukon equation, we see little merit in further development of local regression equations unless a study is to be conducted in a formal double-sampling framework. We recommend that widespread pellet sampling be used to identify areas with very low hare densities; subsequent surveys using mark-recapture methodology can then focus on higher density areas where density inferences are more reliable.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1053-1062
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Wildlife Management
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jul 2005


  • Abundance index
  • Density estimation
  • Effective grid size
  • Lepus americanus
  • Mark-recapture
  • Montana
  • Pellet counts
  • Population size
  • Snowshoe hare


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