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Misleading population estimates: biases and consistency of visual surveys and matrix modelling in the endangered bearded vulture.

Margalida A, Oro D, Cortés-Avizanda A, Heredia R, Donázar JA - PLoS ONE (2011)

Bottom Line: Our results suggest that visual surveys overestimate the number of immature (<2 years old) birds, whereas subadults (3-5 y.o.) and adults (>6 y.o.) were underestimated in comparison with the predictions of a population model using a stable-age distribution.In addition, we found that visual surveys did not provide conclusive information on true variations in the size of the focal population.Our results suggest that although long-term studies (i.e. population matrix modelling based on capture-recapture procedures) are a more time-consuming method, they provide more reliable and robust estimates of population parameters needed in designing and applying conservation strategies.

View Article: PubMed Central - PubMed

Affiliation: Bearded Vulture Study and Protection Group, El Pont de Suert, Lleida, Spain. antoni.margalida@iee.unibe.ch

ABSTRACT
Conservation strategies for long-lived vertebrates require accurate estimates of parameters relative to the populations' size, numbers of non-breeding individuals (the "cryptic" fraction of the population) and the age structure. Frequently, visual survey techniques are used to make these estimates but the accuracy of these approaches is questionable, mainly because of the existence of numerous potential biases. Here we compare data on population trends and age structure in a bearded vulture (Gypaetus barbatus) population from visual surveys performed at supplementary feeding stations with data derived from population matrix-modelling approximations. Our results suggest that visual surveys overestimate the number of immature (<2 years old) birds, whereas subadults (3-5 y.o.) and adults (>6 y.o.) were underestimated in comparison with the predictions of a population model using a stable-age distribution. In addition, we found that visual surveys did not provide conclusive information on true variations in the size of the focal population. Our results suggest that although long-term studies (i.e. population matrix modelling based on capture-recapture procedures) are a more time-consuming method, they provide more reliable and robust estimates of population parameters needed in designing and applying conservation strategies. The findings shown here are likely transferable to the management and conservation of other long-lived vertebrate populations that share similar life-history traits and ecological requirements.

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Annual variation in the estimates of a bearded vulture population through visual surveys (dark line) and population matrix-modelling approximations (white line with±sd in grey) for immature (<2 yrs old, A), subadult (3–5 yrs old, B) and adult (>6 yrs old, C) individuals.Note the different y-axis scales.
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pone-0026784-g001: Annual variation in the estimates of a bearded vulture population through visual surveys (dark line) and population matrix-modelling approximations (white line with±sd in grey) for immature (<2 yrs old, A), subadult (3–5 yrs old, B) and adult (>6 yrs old, C) individuals.Note the different y-axis scales.

Mentions: The maximum number of bearded vultures observed during the simultaneous visual surveys was significantly related to both the abundance predicted by the model (F1, 31 = 13.48, p = 0.0009) and the age of the individuals (F2,31 = 19.75, p<0.0001: adult< subadult<immature). These results initially seem to indicate that visual surveys reflected the real population trend (a progressive increase, Fig. 1). However, this relationship was only approximate: inter-annual variability was strong and visual surveys were not good at detecting finely tuned trends such as the slowing down of the population growth observed during the final years of the study (2004–2006, Fig. 1). In addition, visual surveys also overestimated the number of immature birds, but underestimated the numbers of subadults and adults with respect to the predictions of the population model using stable-age distribution (Fig. 1), being the mismatch for the adult age class extremely large.


Misleading population estimates: biases and consistency of visual surveys and matrix modelling in the endangered bearded vulture.

Margalida A, Oro D, Cortés-Avizanda A, Heredia R, Donázar JA - PLoS ONE (2011)

Annual variation in the estimates of a bearded vulture population through visual surveys (dark line) and population matrix-modelling approximations (white line with±sd in grey) for immature (<2 yrs old, A), subadult (3–5 yrs old, B) and adult (>6 yrs old, C) individuals.Note the different y-axis scales.
© Copyright Policy
Related In: Results  -  Collection

Show All Figures
getmorefigures.php?uid=PMC3198840&req=5

pone-0026784-g001: Annual variation in the estimates of a bearded vulture population through visual surveys (dark line) and population matrix-modelling approximations (white line with±sd in grey) for immature (<2 yrs old, A), subadult (3–5 yrs old, B) and adult (>6 yrs old, C) individuals.Note the different y-axis scales.
Mentions: The maximum number of bearded vultures observed during the simultaneous visual surveys was significantly related to both the abundance predicted by the model (F1, 31 = 13.48, p = 0.0009) and the age of the individuals (F2,31 = 19.75, p<0.0001: adult< subadult<immature). These results initially seem to indicate that visual surveys reflected the real population trend (a progressive increase, Fig. 1). However, this relationship was only approximate: inter-annual variability was strong and visual surveys were not good at detecting finely tuned trends such as the slowing down of the population growth observed during the final years of the study (2004–2006, Fig. 1). In addition, visual surveys also overestimated the number of immature birds, but underestimated the numbers of subadults and adults with respect to the predictions of the population model using stable-age distribution (Fig. 1), being the mismatch for the adult age class extremely large.

Bottom Line: Our results suggest that visual surveys overestimate the number of immature (<2 years old) birds, whereas subadults (3-5 y.o.) and adults (>6 y.o.) were underestimated in comparison with the predictions of a population model using a stable-age distribution.In addition, we found that visual surveys did not provide conclusive information on true variations in the size of the focal population.Our results suggest that although long-term studies (i.e. population matrix modelling based on capture-recapture procedures) are a more time-consuming method, they provide more reliable and robust estimates of population parameters needed in designing and applying conservation strategies.

View Article: PubMed Central - PubMed

Affiliation: Bearded Vulture Study and Protection Group, El Pont de Suert, Lleida, Spain. antoni.margalida@iee.unibe.ch

ABSTRACT
Conservation strategies for long-lived vertebrates require accurate estimates of parameters relative to the populations' size, numbers of non-breeding individuals (the "cryptic" fraction of the population) and the age structure. Frequently, visual survey techniques are used to make these estimates but the accuracy of these approaches is questionable, mainly because of the existence of numerous potential biases. Here we compare data on population trends and age structure in a bearded vulture (Gypaetus barbatus) population from visual surveys performed at supplementary feeding stations with data derived from population matrix-modelling approximations. Our results suggest that visual surveys overestimate the number of immature (<2 years old) birds, whereas subadults (3-5 y.o.) and adults (>6 y.o.) were underestimated in comparison with the predictions of a population model using a stable-age distribution. In addition, we found that visual surveys did not provide conclusive information on true variations in the size of the focal population. Our results suggest that although long-term studies (i.e. population matrix modelling based on capture-recapture procedures) are a more time-consuming method, they provide more reliable and robust estimates of population parameters needed in designing and applying conservation strategies. The findings shown here are likely transferable to the management and conservation of other long-lived vertebrate populations that share similar life-history traits and ecological requirements.

Show MeSH