Estimating deer density and abundance using spatial mark–resight models with camera trap data


Andrew J. Bengsen , David M. Forsyth, Dave S. L. Ramsey, Matt Amos, Michael Brennan,
Anthony R. Pople, Sebastien Comte, and Troy Crittle.


Globally, many wild deer populations are actively studied or managed for conservation, hunting, or damage mitigation purposes. These studies require reliable estimates of population state parameters, such as density or abundance, with a level of precision that is fit for purpose. Such estimates can be difficult to attain for many populations that occur in situations that are poorly suited to common survey methods. We evaluated the utility of combining camera trap survey data, in which a small proportion of the sample is individually recognizable using natural markings, with spatial mark–resight (SMR) models to estimate deer density in a variety of situations. We surveyed 13 deer populations comprising four deer species (Cervus unicolor, C. timorensis, C. elaphus, Dama dama) at nine widely separated sites, and used Bayesian SMR models to estimate population densities and abundances. Twelve surveys provided sufficient data for analysis and seven produced density estimates with coefficients of variation (CVs) ≤ 0.25. Estimated densities ranged from 0.3 to 24.6 deer km−2. Camera trap surveys and SMR models provided a powerful and flexible approach for estimating deer densities in populations in which many detections were not individually identifiable, and they should provide useful density estimates under a wide range of conditions that are not amenable to more widely used methods. In the absence of specific local information on deer detectability and movement patterns, we recommend that at least 30 cameras be spaced at 500–1,000 m and set for 90 days. This approach could also be applied to large mammals other than deer.

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