Heterogeneous capture rates in low density populations and consequences for capture-recapture analysis of camera-trap data
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- Harmsen, B.J., Foster, R.J. & Doncaster, C.P. Popul Ecol (2011) 53: 253. doi:10.1007/s10144-010-0211-z
Closed population capture-recapture analysis of camera-trap data has become the conventional method for estimating the abundance of individually recognisable cryptic species living at low densities, such as large felids. Often these estimates are the only information available to guide wildlife managers and conservation policy. Capture probability of the target species using camera traps is commonly heterogeneous and low. Published studies often report overall capture probabilities as low as 0.03 and fail to report on the level of heterogeneity in capture probability. We used simulations to study the effects of low and heterogeneous capture probability on the reliability of abundance estimates using the Mh jack-knife estimator within a closed-population capture-recapture framework. High heterogeneity in capture probability was associated with under- and over-estimates of true abundance. The use of biased abundance estimates could have serious conservation management consequences. We recommend that studies present capture frequencies of all sampled individuals so that policy makers can assess the reliability of the abundance estimates.