Ecology

Estimating abundance of a recovering transboundary brown bear population with capture-recapture models

10.24072/pcjournal.199 - Peer Community Journal, Volume 2 (2022), article no. e71.

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Estimating the size of small populations of large mammals can be achieved via censuses, or complete counts, of recognizable individuals detected over a time period: minimum detected (population) size (MDS). However, as a population grows larger and its spatial distribution expands, the risk of under-estimating population size using MDS rapidly increases because the assumption of perfect detection of all individuals in the population is violated. The need to report uncertainty around population size estimates consequently becomes crucial. We explored these biases using the monitoring framework of the critically endangered Pyrenean brown bear that was close to extinction in the mid-1990s, with only five individuals remaining, but was subsequently bolstered by the introduction of 11 bears from Slovenia. Each year since 1996, the abundance of the population has been assessed using MDS and minimum retained (population) size (MRS), which corresponded to a reassessment of the MDS in the light of the new information collected in subsequent years (e.g., adding bears which were not detected the previous years but detected the current year). We used Pollock’s closed robust design (PCRD) capture-recapture models applied to the cross-border non-invasive sampling data from France, Spain and Andorra to provide the first published annual abundance and temporal trend estimates of the Pyrenean brown bear population since 2008. Annual population size increased fivefold between 2008 and 2020, going from 13 to 66 individuals. PCRD estimates were globally close to MRS counts and had reasonably narrow associated 95% Credibility Intervals. Even in cases where sampling effort is large compared to population size, the PCRD estimates of population size can diverge from the MDS counts. We report individual heterogeneity in detection that might stem from intraspecific home range size variation that result in individuals that move the most being most likely to be detected. We also found that cubs had a higher mortality rate than adults and subadults, because of infanticide by males, predation, maternal death, or abandonment. Overall, the PCRD capture-recapture modelling approach provides estimates of abundance and demographic rates of the Pyrenean brown bear population, together with associated uncertainty, while minimizing bias due to inter-individual heterogeneity in detection probabilities. We strongly encourage wildlife ecologists and managers to use robust approaches when researching large mammal populations. Such information is vital for informing management decision-making and assessing population conservation status.

Published online:
DOI: 10.24072/pcjournal.199
Vanpé, Cécile 1; Piédallu, Blaise 2; Quenette, Pierre-Yves 1; Sentilles, Jérôme 1; Queney, Guillaume 3; Palazón, Santiago 4; Jordana, Ivan Afonso 5; Jato, Ramón 6; Irurtia, Miguel Mari Elósegui 7; de la Torre, Jordi Solà 8; Gimenez, Olivier 2

1 Direction de la Recherche et de l’Appui Scientifique (DRAS), Office Français de la Biodiversité (OFB) – Villeneuve-de-Rivière, France
2 Centre d’Ecologie Fonctionnelle et Evolutive (CEFE), Univ. Montpellier, CNRS, EPHE, IRD – Montpellier, France
3 ANTAGENE – La Tour de Salvagny, France
4 Fauna and Flora Service, Department of Territory and Sustainability – Barcelona, Spain
5 Medi Ambient, Conselh Generau d’Aran – Vielha, Spain
6 Departamento de Producción y Asistencias Técnicas, Sociedad Aragonesa de Gestión Agroambiental, S.L.U. – Huesca, Spain
7 Servicio de Biodiversidad, Sección de Espacios Naturales y Especies Amenazadas, Gobierno de Navarra-Nafarroako Gobernua – Pamplona-Iruñea, Spain
8 Unitat de Fauna, Departament de Medi Ambient – Andorra la Vella, Principality of Andorra
License: CC-BY 4.0
Copyrights: The authors retain unrestricted copyrights and publishing rights
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     author = {Vanp\'e, C\'ecile and Pi\'edallu, Blaise and Quenette, Pierre-Yves and Sentilles, J\'er\^ome and Queney, Guillaume and Palaz\'on, Santiago and Jordana, Ivan Afonso and Jato, Ram\'on and Irurtia, Miguel Mari El\'osegui and de la Torre, Jordi Sol\`a and Gimenez, Olivier},
     title = {Estimating abundance of a recovering transboundary brown bear population with capture-recapture models},
     journal = {Peer Community Journal},
     eid = {e71},
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Vanpé, Cécile; Piédallu, Blaise; Quenette, Pierre-Yves; Sentilles, Jérôme; Queney, Guillaume; Palazón, Santiago; Jordana, Ivan Afonso; Jato, Ramón; Irurtia, Miguel Mari Elósegui; de la Torre, Jordi Solà; Gimenez, Olivier. Estimating abundance of a recovering transboundary brown bear population with capture-recapture models. Peer Community Journal, Volume 2 (2022), article  no. e71. doi : 10.24072/pcjournal.199. https://peercommunityjournal.org/articles/10.24072/pcjournal.199/

Peer reviewed and recommended by PCI : 10.24072/pci.ecology.100103

Conflict of interest of the recommender and peer reviewers:
The recommender in charge of the evaluation of the article and the reviewers declared that they have no conflict of interest (as defined in the code of conduct of PCI) with the authors or with the content of the article.

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