Comparative woodland caribou population surveys in Slate Islands Provincial Park, Ontario
Keywords:forest-dwelling woodland caribou, population size, genetic profiling, forward looking infrared, FLIR, mark-recapture, transects, protected areas, Rangifer tarandus caribou, Slate Islands Provincial Park
AbstractWe evaluated three methods of estimating population size of woodland caribou (boreal ecotype) on the Slate Islands in northern Ontario. Located on the north shore of Lake Superior, the Slate Islands provide a protected and closed population with very limited predator influence that is ideal for a comparison of survey methods. Our objective was to determine the costs and benefits of three population estimation techniques: (1) forward looking infrared (FLIR) technology to count the number of caribou on regular-spaced transects flown by fixed-wing aircraft; (2) observers to count the number of caribou seen or heard while walking random transects in the spring; and, (3) mark-recapture sampling of caribou pellets using DNA analysis. FLIR and the genetics 3-window approach gave much tighter confidence intervals but similar population estimates were found from all three techniques based on their overlapping confidence intervals. There are various costs and benefits to each technique that are discussed further. Understanding the costs and benefits of different population estimation techniques is necessary to develop cost-effective programs for inventorying and monitoring this threatened species not only on the Slate Islands but for other populations as well.
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