Mark-recapture vs. line-transect abundance estimates of a coastal dolphin population: a case study of Tursiops truncatus from Laguna, southern Brazil
Keywords:abundance, mark-recapture, line-transect, monitoring program, trends, bottlenose dolphin, Laguna
Cetacean populations in coastal habitats are increasingly threatened by multiple anthropogenic impacts. Monitoring these populations to obtain robust estimates of abundance and detect trends over time is critical to achieve conservation goals. Here, we conducted a pilot study to evaluate the effectiveness of two commonly used abundance estimation methods: mark-recapture and distance sampling line-transect. Surveys were conducted to estimate the abundance of bottlenose dolphins in Laguna, southern Brazil. We implemented power-analysis models and compared both techniques in terms of cost, time and effectiveness to detect trends over a five-year period. Mark-recapture models were analyzed in MARK and resulted in an abundance of 50 individuals (CI = 39-64) with a coefficient of variation (CV) of 0.13. The line-transect models were implemented using the program DISTANCE and resulted in an estimate of 62 individuals (CI = 38-103), with a CV of 0.24. Comparing both approaches, mark-recapture resulted 1.30 time more expensive than line-transect for a single season of effort, but was twice as effective in terms of precision. As a consequence, the probability of detecting a 5% trend during a five-year period is 2.08 times higher with mark recapture. Conversely, the final cost to detect a trend with distance sampling is 1.19 time higher but considering six more years of effort. These results highlight the importance of selecting a-priori sampling design techniques that include developing pilot studies that evaluate the bias, precision and accuracy of estimates while considering costs involved. Considering the small population size estimated herein, the sensitivity of both approaches for detecting trends is not sufficient because the original population would be markedly reduced by the time a declining trend was detected. Thus, a precautionary approach is still imperative, even when robust estimates are obtained.
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