A Hierarchical Distance Sampling Approach to Estimating Mortality Rates from Opportunistic Carcass Surveillance Data.
ABSTRACT: Distance sampling is widely used to estimate the abundance or density of wildlife populations. Methods to estimate wildlife mortality rates have developed largely independently from distance sampling, despite the conceptual similarities between estimation of cumulative mortality and the population density of living animals. Conventional distance sampling analyses rely on the assumption that animals are distributed uniformly with respect to transects and thus require randomized placement of transects during survey design. Because mortality events are rare, however, it is often not possible to obtain precise estimates in this way without infeasible levels of effort. A great deal of wildlife data, including mortality data, is available via road-based surveys. Interpreting these data in a distance sampling framework requires accounting for the non-uniformity sampling. Additionally, analyses of opportunistic mortality data must account for the decline in carcass detectability through time. We develop several extensions to distance sampling theory to address these problems.We build mortality estimators in a hierarchical framework that integrates animal movement data, surveillance effort data, and motion-sensor camera trap data, respectively, to relax the uniformity assumption, account for spatiotemporal variation in surveillance effort, and explicitly model carcass detection and disappearance as competing ongoing processes.Analysis of simulated data showed that our estimators were unbiased and that their confidence intervals had good coverage.We also illustrate our approach on opportunistic carcass surveillance data acquired in 2010 during an anthrax outbreak in the plains zebra of Etosha National Park, Namibia.The methods developed here will allow researchers and managers to infer mortality rates from opportunistic surveillance data.
Project description:Bushmeat is a major source of protein and income in tropical regions but is often over-harvested. A better monitoring of bushmeat stocks could help achieve sustainability. We used a combination of simulations and transect survey data collected from blue duikers (Philantomba monticola) in the Lomako wildlife reserve, Democratic Republic of the Congo, to investigate the use of transect-based distance sampling to monitor bushmeat stocks. The comparison of dung piles and direct observations of duikers evidenced that animals avoided both the transects in the absence of observers, and the observers themselves. This type of behavioural response appeared common in a literature survey. It causes a negative bias in the estimates of population densities from the standard distance sampling methodology. This negative bias would lead to over-pessimistic predictions of population viability, especially if the behavioural response is more intense in the locations where the animals are hunted. In turn, this would lead to excessively conservative management recommendations. To correct for the effect of the behavioural response of the animals to either the transects or the observers, we recommend recording both the forward and perpendicular distances to the observers (2D distance sampling), not just the perpendicular distance. We also recommend multiple-observer protocols. As a cautionary note, we also demonstrate a scenario where the intensity of the behavioural response is too high to reliably estimate the abundance of the population. As a perspective, we outline the general principles of a local stakeholder-based program combining distance sampling with less intensive types of ecological indicators to monitor wildlife populations.
Project description:Accurate estimates of seasonal infection risk can be used by animal health officials to predict future disease risk and improve understanding of the mechanisms driving disease dynamics. It can be difficult to estimate seasonal infection risk in wildlife disease systems because surveillance assays typically target antibodies (serosurveillance), which are not necessarily indicative of current infection, and serosurveillance sampling is often opportunistic. Recently developed methods estimate past time of infection from serosurveillance data using quantitative serological assays that indicate the amount of antibodies in a serology sample. However, current methods do not account for common opportunistic and uneven sampling associated with serosurveillance data. We extended the framework of survival analysis to improve estimates of seasonal infection risk from serosurveillance data across population and regional scales. We found that accounting for the right-censored nature of quantitative serology samples greatly improved estimates of seasonal infection risk, even when sampling was uneven in time. Survival analysis can also be used to account for common challenges when estimating infection risk from serology data, such as biases induced by host demography and continually elevated antibodies following infection. The framework developed herein is widely applicable for estimating seasonal infection risk from serosurveillance data in humans, wildlife, and livestock.
Project description:To evaluate the utility of transect sampling for assessing animal welfare in large chicken flocks, we quantified relationships between environmental inputs, welfare problems detected using transect sampling, and production outcomes. We hypothesised that environmental inputs including environmental complexity (i.e. number of environmental enrichment types provided), space allowance, underfloor heating (presence or absence), and photoperiod regimen (18 h continuous vs 16 h intermittent) would correspond to variations in welfare assessment findings, which would predict production outcomes. We conducted on-farm welfare assessment of Norwegian broiler flocks at approximately 28 days of age. We sampled four transects (rows between feeder and drinker lines) per flock to determine litter quality and the proportions of chickens with compromised welfare as indicated by visual signs of walking difficulties, illness, skin wounds and small bird size. Production outcome measures included mortality, reasons for carcass rejection at slaughter, footpad dermatitis, growth rate, feed conversion and an integrated production index. Greater environmental complexity was associated with a reduction in skin wounds and total welfare problems on the farm, lower mortality, fewer rejections due to wounds and underweight birds, and fewer rejections overall. Higher space allowances within levels of environmental complexity were associated with fewer walking difficulties and welfare problems overall, a reduction in rejections due to wounds, and a higher growth rate and production index. Underfloor heating was associated with a reduction in rejections due to leg deformity, and intermittent light was associated with lower illness and skin wound rates on the farm, and lower mortality. Furthermore, fewer welfare problems and better litter quality on the farm were associated with fewer carcass rejections at slaughter. Thus, data from transect sampling varied with environmental inputs and production outcomes, supporting the validity of transect sampling for practical, animal-based on-farm welfare assessment.
Project description:Ebolavirus (EBOV) has caused disease outbreaks taking thousands of lives, costing billions of dollars in control efforts and threatening great ape populations. EBOV ecology is not fully understood but infected wildlife and consumption of animal carcasses have been linked to human outbreaks, especially in the Congo Basin. Partnering with the Congolese Ministry of Health, we conducted wildlife mortality surveillance and educational outreach in the northern Republic of Congo (RoC). Designed for EBOV detection and to alert public health authorities, we established a low-cost wildlife mortality reporting network covering 50 000 km2. Simultaneously, we delivered educational outreach promoting behavioural change to over 6600 people in rural northern RoC. We achieved specimen collection by training project staff on a safe sampling protocol and equipping geographically distributed bases with sampling kits. We established in-country diagnostics for EBOV testing, reducing diagnostic turnaround time to 3 days and demonstrated the absence of EBOV in 58 carcasses. Central Africa remains a high-risk EBOV region, but RoC, home to the largest remaining populations of great apes, has not had an epidemic since 2005. This effort continues to function as an untested early warning system in RoC, where people and great apes have died from past Ebola virus disease outbreaks. This article is part of the theme issue 'Dynamic and integrative approaches to understanding pathogen spillover'.
Project description:Bovine tuberculosis (bTB) is a common disease in cattle and wildlife, with an impact on animal and human health, and economic implications. Infected wild animals have been detected in some European countries, and bTB reservoirs in wildlife have been identified, potentially hindering the eradication of bTB from cattle populations. However, the surveillance of bTB in wildlife involves several practical difficulties and is not currently covered by EU legislation. We report here the first assessment of the sensitivity of the bTB surveillance system for free-ranging wildlife launched in France in 2011 (the Sylvatub system), based on scenario tree modelling. Three surveillance system components were identified: (i) passive scanning surveillance for hunted wild boar, red deer and roe deer, based on carcass examination, (ii) passive surveillance on animals found dead, moribund or with abnormal behaviour, for wild boar, red deer, roe deer and badger and (iii) active surveillance for wild boar and badger. The application of these three surveillance system components depends on the geographic risk of bTB infection in wildlife, which in turn depends on the prevalence of bTB in cattle. We estimated the effectiveness of the three components of the Sylvatub surveillance system quantitatively, for each species separately. Active surveillance and passive scanning surveillance by carcass examination were the approaches most likely to detect at least one infected animal in a population with a given design prevalence, regardless of the local risk level and species considered. The awareness of hunters, which depends on their training and the geographic risk, was found to affect surveillance sensitivity. The results obtained are relevant for hunters and veterinary authorities wishing to determine the actual efficacy of wildlife bTB surveillance as a function of geographic area and species, and could provide support for decision-making processes concerning the enhancement of surveillance strategies.
Project description:Wind energy offers substantial environmental benefits, but wind facilities can negatively impact wildlife, including birds and bats. Researchers and managers have made major efforts to chronicle bird and bat mortality associated with wind facilities, but few studies have examined the patterns and underlying mechanisms of spatial patterns of fatalities at wind facilities. Understanding the horizontal fall distance between a carcass and the nearest turbine pole is important in designing effective search protocols and estimating total mortality. We explored patterns in taxonomic composition and fall distance of bird and bat carcasses at wind facilities in the Northeastern United States using publicly available data and data submitted to the US Fish and Wildlife Service under scientific collecting and special purpose utility permits for collection and study of migratory birds. Forty-four wind facilities reported 2,039 bird fatalities spanning 128 species and 22 facilities reported 418 bat fatalities spanning five species. Relative to long-distance migratory birds, short-distance migrants were found farther from turbines. Body mass of birds and bats positively influenced fall distance. Turbine size positively influenced fall distance of birds and bats when analyzed collectively and of birds when analyzed separately from bats. This suggests that as turbines increase in size, a greater search radius will be necessary to detect carcasses. Bird and bat fall distance distributions were notably multimodal, but only birds exhibited a high peak near turbine bases, a novel finding we attribute to collisions with turbine poles in addition to blades. This phenomenon varied across bird species, with potential implications for the accuracy of mortality estimates. Although pole collisions for birds is intuitive, this phenomenon has not been formally recognized. This finding may warrant an updated view of turbines as a collision threat to birds because they are a tall structure, and not strictly as a function of their motion.
Project description:Abstract Facilitating coexistence between people and wildlife is a major conservation challenge in East Africa. Some conservation models aim to balance the needs of people and wildlife, but the effectiveness of these models is rarely assessed. Using a case?study approach, we assessed the ecological performance of a pastoral area in northern Tanzania (Manyara Ranch) and established a long?term wildlife population monitoring program (carried out intermittently from 2003 to 2008 and regularly from 2011 to 2019) embedded in a distance sampling framework. By comparing density estimates of the road transect?based long?term monitoring to estimates derived from systematically distributed transects, we found that the bias associated with nonrandom placement of transects was nonsignificant. Overall, cattle and sheep and goat reached the greatest densities and several wildlife species occurred at densities similar (zebra, wildebeest, waterbuck, Kirk's dik?dik) or possibly even greater (giraffe, eland, lesser kudu, Grant's gazelle, Thomson's gazelle) than in adjacent national parks in the same ecosystem. Generalized linear mixed models suggested that most wildlife species (8 out of 14) reached greatest densities during the dry season, that wildlife population densities either remained constant or increased over the 17?year period, and that herbivorous livestock species remained constant, while domestic dog population decreased over time. Cross?species correlations did not provide evidence for interference competition between grazing or mixed livestock species and wildlife species but indicate possible negative relationships between domestic dog and warthog populations. Overall, wildlife and livestock populations in Manyara Ranch appear to coexist over the 17?year span. Most likely, this is facilitated by existing connectivity to adjacent protected areas, effective anti?poaching efforts, spatio?temporal grazing restrictions, favorable environmental conditions of the ranch, and spatial heterogeneity of surface water and habitats. This long?term case study illustrates the potential of rangelands to simultaneously support wildlife conservation and human livelihood goals if livestock grazing is restricted in space, time, and numbers. To provide evidence for livestock–wildlife coexistence, we present data on long?term (intermittently from 2003 to 2008 and regularly from 2011 to 2019) monitoring and population dynamics of livestock and wildlife species in a managed pastoral area in northern Tanzania. Our results show constant livestock population trajectories and constant to increasing wildlife population trends. This case study illustrates the potential of rangelands to simultaneously support wildlife conservation and human livelihood goals if livestock grazing is managed sustainably.
Project description:We estimated the spatial distribution of 6 Mustelidae species in France using the data collected by the French national hunting and wildlife agency under the "small carnivorous species logbooks" program. The 1500 national wildlife protection officers working for this agency spend 80% of their working time traveling in the spatial area in which they have authority. During their travels, they occasionally detect dead or living small and medium size carnivorous animals. Between 2002 and 2005, each car operated by this agency was equipped with a logbook in which officers recorded information about the detected animals (species, location, dead or alive, date). Thus, more than 30000 dead or living animals were detected during the study period. Because a large number of detected animals in a region could have been the result of a high sampling pressure there, we modeled the number of detected animals as a function of the sampling effort to allow for unbiased estimation of the species density. For dead animals -- mostly roadkill -- we supposed that the effort in a given region was proportional to the distance traveled by the officers. For living animals, we had no way to measure the sampling effort. We demonstrated that it was possible to use the whole dataset (dead and living animals) to estimate the following: (i) the relative density -- i.e., the density multiplied by an unknown constant -- of each species of interest across the different French agricultural regions, (ii) the sampling effort for living animals for each region, and (iii) the relative detection probability for various species of interest.
Project description:BACKGROUND: Road mortality is probably the best-known and visible impact of roads upon wildlife. Although several factors influence road-kill counts, carcass persistence time is considered the most important determinant underlying underestimates of road mortality. The present study aims to describe and model carcass persistence variability on the road for different taxonomic groups under different environmental conditions throughout the year; and also to assess the effect of sampling frequency on the relative variation in road-kill estimates registered within a survey. METHODOLOGY/PRINCIPAL FINDINGS: Daily surveys of road-killed vertebrates were conducted over one year along four road sections with different traffic volumes. Survival analysis was then used to i) describe carcass persistence timings for overall and for specific animal groups; ii) assess optimal sampling designs according to research objectives; and iii) model the influence of road, animal and weather factors on carcass persistence probabilities. Most animal carcasses persisted on the road for the first day only, with some groups disappearing at very high rates. The advisable periodicity of road monitoring that minimizes bias in road mortality estimates is daily monitoring for bats (in the morning) and lizards (in the afternoon), daily monitoring for toads, small birds, small mammals, snakes, salamanders, and lagomorphs; 1 day-interval (alternate days) for large birds, birds of prey, hedgehogs, and freshwater turtles; and 2 day-interval for carnivores. Multiple factors influenced the persistence probabilities of vertebrate carcasses on the road. Overall, the persistence was much lower for small animals, on roads with lower traffic volumes, for carcasses located on road lanes, and during humid conditions and high temperatures during the wet season and dry seasons, respectively. CONCLUSION/SIGNIFICANCE: The guidance given here on monitoring frequencies is particularly relevant to provide conservation and transportation agencies with accurate numbers of road-kills, realistic mitigation measures, and detailed designs for road monitoring programs.
Project description:Fire is a key ecological process in several biomes worldwide. Over recent decades, human activities (e.g. rural abandonment, monoculture plantations) and global warming are magnifying the risk of fire, with changes in fire intensity and frequency. Here, we offer the first study that examines the impact of fire on the spur-thighed tortoise Testudo graeca living in a native cork oak forest and pine plantation in north-western Africa. A total of 44 transects (22 burnt and 22 unburnt) were sampled at 8 sites affected by fires of natural cork oak forest and pine plantation with 8 surveys per site in 2015-2017 (264 hours of sampling effort). Tortoise densities were estimated with line-transect distance sampling. The detection probability of tortoises was higher in burnt (0.915) than unburnt (0.474) transects. The density of tortoises was negatively associated with elevation and declined with fire by c. 50% in both forest types. The negative response of T. graeca to fire should be considered in conservation planning of this species in north-western Africa in a future scenario of changes in fire regime.