On the Challenge of Interpreting Census Data: Insights from a Study of an Endangered Pinniped
2016 (English)In: PLoS ONE, ISSN 1932-6203, E-ISSN 1932-6203, Vol. 11, no 5, e0154588Article in journal (Refereed) PublishedText
Population monitoring is vital for conservation and management. However, simple counts of animals can be misleading and this problem is exacerbated in seals (pinnipeds) where individuals spend much time foraging away from colonies. We analyzed a 13-year-series of census data of Galapagos sea lions (Zalophus wollebaeki) from the colony of Caamano, an islet in the center of the Galapagos archipelago where a large proportion of animals was individually marked. Based on regular resighting efforts during the cold, reproductive (cold-R; August to January) and the warm, non-reproductive (warm-nR; February to May) season, we document changes in numbers for different sex and age classes. During the cold-R season the number of adults increased as the number of newborn pups increased. Numbers were larger in themorning and evening than around mid-day and not significantly influenced by tide levels. More adults frequented the colony during the warm-nR season than the cold-R season. Raw counts suggested a decline in numbers over the 13 years, but Lincoln-Petersen (LP-) estimates (assuming a closed population) did not support that conclusion. Raw counts and LP estimates were not significantly correlated, demonstrating the overwhelming importance of variability in attendance patterns of individuals. The probability of observing a given adult in the colony varied between 16%(mean for cold-R season) and 23%(warm-nR season) and may be much less for independent 2 to 4 year olds. Dependent juveniles (up to the age of about 2 years) are observed much more frequently ashore (35% during the cold-R and 50% during the warm-nR seasons). Simple counts underestimate real population size by a factor of 4-6 and may lead to erroneous conclusions about trends in population size.
Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
2016. Vol. 11, no 5, e0154588
IdentifiersURN: urn:nbn:se:uu:diva-298098DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0154588ISI: 000375676800042PubMedID: 27148735OAI: oai:DiVA.org:uu-298098DiVA: diva2:944423