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A newt does not change its spots: using pattern mapping for the identification of individuals in large populations of newt species

Abstract

The correct identification of individuals is a requirement of capture-mark-recapture (CMR) methods, and it is commonly achieved by applying artificial marks or by mutilation of study-animals. An alternative, non-invasive method to identify individuals is to utilize the patterns of their natural body markings. However, the use of pattern mapping is not yet widespread, mainly because it is considered time consuming, particularly in large populations and/or long-term CMR studies. Here we explore the use of pattern mapping for the identification of adult individuals in the alpine (Ichthyosaura alpestris) and smooth (Lissotriton vulgaris) newts (Amphibia, Salamandridae), using the freely available, open-source software Wild-ID. Our photographic datasets comprised nearly 4000 captured animals’ images, taken during a 3-year period. The spot patterns of individual newts of both species did not change through time, and were sufficiently varied to allow their individual identification, even in the larger datasets. The pattern-recognition algorithm of Wild-ID was highly successful in identifying individual newts in both species. Our findings indicate that pattern mapping can be successfully employed for the identification of individuals in large populations of a broad range of animals that exhibit natural markings. The significance of pattern-mapping is accentuated in CMR studies that aim in obtaining long-term information on the demography and population dynamics of species of conservation interest, such as many amphibians facing population declines.

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Acknowledgments

We would like to thank Eva Pitta and Christos Papathanasiou for their valuable help during field work, the stuff of the Management Body of Chelmos - Vouraikos National Park for providing their facilities and assistance, Kostas Sotiropoulos for helpful discussions and two anonymous reviewers for helpful comments and suggestions.

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Correspondence to Onoufrios Mettouris.

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This study complies with the current laws of Greece.

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The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

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Mettouris, O., Megremis, G. & Giokas, S. A newt does not change its spots: using pattern mapping for the identification of individuals in large populations of newt species. Ecol Res 31, 483–489 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11284-016-1346-y

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s11284-016-1346-y

Keywords

  • Photo capture-mark-recapture
  • Computer-assisted photo-identification
  • Non-invasive individual identification
  • Photo-id
  • Wild-ID