A Comparison of Non-invasive Techniques to Survey Carnivore Communities in Northeastern North America

TitleA Comparison of Non-invasive Techniques to Survey Carnivore Communities in Northeastern North America
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2006
AuthorsGompper, ME, Kays, RW, Ray, JC, LaPoint, SD, Bogan, DA, Cryan, JR
JournalWildlife Society Bulletin
Keywordscamera traps, carnivores, fecal DNA, latency to detection, New York, noninvasive survey, probability of detection, snowtracking, track-plates

Carnivores are difficult to survey due, in large part, to their relative rarity across the landscape and wariness toward humans. Several noninvasive methods may aid in overcoming these difficulties, but there has been little discussion of the relative merits and biases of these techniques. We assess the value of 5 noninvasive techniques based on results from 2 multiyear studies of carnivores (including members of Carnivora and Didelphidae) in New York forests. Two metrics were particularly valuable in assessing the species-specific value of any particular survey technique: latency to initial detection (LTD) and probability of detection (POD). We found differences in the value of techniques in detecting different species. For midsized species (raccoon [Procyon lotor], fisher [Martes pennanti], opossum [Didelphis virginiana], and domestic cat [Felis catus]), camera traps and track-plates were approximately equivalent in detection efficiency, but the potential for wariness toward the survey apparatus resulted in higher LTD for track-plates than for cameras. On the other hand, track-plates detected small carnivores (marten [M. americana] and weasels [Mustela spp.]) more often than cameras and had higher PODs for small and midsized species than did cameras. Cameras were efficient mechanisms for surveying bears (Ursus americanus; low LTD, high POD) but functioned poorly for discerning presence of coyotes (Canis latrans; high LTD, low POD). Scat surveys and snowtracking were the best methods for coyotes, which avoided camera traps and artificial tracking surfaces. Our analysis of fecal DNA revealed that trail-based fecal surveys were inefficient at detecting species other than coyotes, with the possible exception of red foxes (Vulpes vulpes). Genetic analyses of feces and snowtracking revealed the presence of foxes at sites where other techniques failed to discern these species, suggesting that cameras and track-plates are inefficient for surveying small canids in this region. The LTD of coyotes by camera traps was not correlated with their abundance as indexed by scat counts, but for other species this metric may offer an opportunity to assess relative abundance across sites. Snowtracking surveys were particularly robust (high POD) for detecting species active in winter and may be more effective than both cameras and track-plates where conditions are suitable. We recommend that survey efforts targeting multiple members of the carnivore community use multiple independent techniques and incorporate mechanisms to truth their relative value.