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PeerJ. 2018 Mar 29;6:e4591. doi: 10.7717/peerj.4591. eCollection 2018.

Determining the numbers of a landscape architect species (Tapirus terrestris), using footprints.

Author information

Nicholas School of the Environment, Duke University, Durham, NC, USA.
Programa de Pós-graduação em Ciências Biológicas (Biologia Animal), Departamento de Ciências Biológicas, Universidade Federal do Espírito Santo, Vitória, Espírito Santo, Brazil.
Pró-Tapir, Instituto de Ensino, Pesquisa e Preservação Ambiental Marcos Daniel (IMD), Vitória, Espírito Santo, Brazil.
JMP Division, SAS, Cary, NC, USA.
Contributed equally



As a landscape architect and a major seed disperser, the lowland tapir (Tapirus terrestris) is an important indicator of the ecological health of certain habitats. Therefore, reliable data regarding tapir populations are fundamental in understanding ecosystem dynamics, including those associated with the Atlantic Forest in Brazil. Currently, many population monitoring studies use invasive tagging with radio or satellite/Global Positioning System (GPS) collars. These techniques can be costly and unreliable, and the immobilization required carries physiological risks that are undesirable particularly for threatened and elusive species such as the lowland tapir.


We collected data from one of the last regions with a viable population of lowland tapir in the south-eastern Atlantic Forest, Brazil, using a new non-invasive method for identifying species, the footprint identification technique (FIT).


We identified the minimum number of tapirs in the study area and, in addition, we observed that they have overlapping ranges. Four hundred and forty footprints from 46 trails collected from six locations in the study area in a landscape known to contain tapir were analyzed, and 29 individuals were identified from these footprints.


We demonstrate a practical application of FIT for lowland tapir censusing. Our study shows that FIT is an effective method for the identification of individuals of a threatened species, even when they lack visible natural markings on their bodies. FIT offers several benefits over other methods, especially for tapir management. As a non-invasive method, it can be used to census or monitor species, giving rapid feedback to managers of protected areas.


Atlantic Forest; Census; Footprint identification technique; Lowland tapir; Non-invasive methods; Protected area management

Conflict of interest statement

The authors declare that they have no competing interests.

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