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Ecol Appl. 2009 Jan;19(1):55-68.

Sampling design considerations for demographic studies: a case of colonial seabirds.

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USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, 12100 Beech Forest Road, Laurel, Maryland 20708, USA.


For the purposes of making many informed conservation decisions, the main goal for data collection is to assess population status and allow prediction of the consequences of candidate management actions. Reducing the bias and variance of estimates of population parameters reduces uncertainty in population status and projections, thereby reducing the overall uncertainty under which a population manager must make a decision. In capture-recapture studies, imperfect detection of individuals, unobservable life-history states, local movement outside study areas, and tag loss can cause bias or precision problems with estimates of population parameters. Furthermore, excessive disturbance to individuals during capture-recapture sampling may be of concern because disturbance may have demographic consequences. We address these problems using as an example a monitoring program for Black-footed Albatross (Phoebastria nigripes) and Laysan Albatross (Phoebastria immutabilis) nesting populations in the northwestern Hawaiian Islands. To mitigate these estimation problems, we describe a synergistic combination of sampling design and modeling approaches. Solutions include multiple capture periods per season and multistate, robust design statistical models, dead recoveries and incidental observations, telemetry and data loggers, buffer areas around study plots to neutralize the effect of local movements outside study plots, and double banding and statistical models that account for band loss. We also present a variation on the robust capture-recapture design and a corresponding statistical model that minimizes disturbance to individuals. For the albatross case study, this less invasive robust design was more time efficient and, when used in combination with a traditional robust design, reduced the standard error of detection probability by 14% with only two hours of additional effort in the field. These field techniques and associated modeling approaches are applicable to studies of most taxa being marked and in some cases have individually been applied to studies of birds, fish, herpetofauna, and mammals.

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