Assessing the homogeneity of individual scat detection probability using the bait-marking method on a monitored free-ranging carnivore population
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- Forin-Wiart, MA., Gotteland, C., Gilot-Fromont, E. et al. Eur J Wildl Res (2014) 60: 665. doi:10.1007/s10344-014-0833-0
Estimates of terrestrial carnivore populations are often based on information derived from scat collected during trail-based sampling. However, few attempts have been made to verify the homogeneity of individual scat detection probability because wild carnivore species seldom afford this opportunity. The present study aims to test this assumption on a free-ranging population of domestic cats (Felis silvestris catus), as this carnivore has ranging behaviours close enough to its wild ancestor to provide useful information for wild carnivore surveys. The homogeneity of scat detection probability was investigated using the bait-marking method on a previously monitored population of 142 individuals, composed of free-roaming house cats (43 %) and farm cats (57 %). An 11-km trail was walked twice a week over a 58-day period to individually feed cats with marked baits and to collect their faeces. From the 8,236 faeces expected to be dropped by cats over that period, less than 2 % were collected, and from the 215 baits distributed to 44 cats (31 % of the population), only 13.5 % of the expected marked faeces were found. Detectability of faeces producers did not differ between free-roaming house cats and farm cats, but faeces detection probability was linked with sex and reproductive status. This study, conducted on a monitored population of free-roaming carnivores, stresses that it is possible to make only cautious conclusions about population estimates supported by trail-based scat samplings, since only a few individuals may be responsible for many scat detections.