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Stakeholders engagement as an important step for the long-term monitoring of wild ungulate populations

Citation

Carvalho, João et al. (2021), Stakeholders engagement as an important step for the long-term monitoring of wild ungulate populations, Dryad, Dataset, https://doi.org/10.5061/dryad.fj6q573v6

Abstract

Monitoring trends in animal populations is essential for the development of appropriate wildlife management strategies. However, long-term studies are difficult to maintain mainly due to the lack of continuous funding. In this scenario, the collaboration between local stakeholders and researchers can be a fruitful partnership to monitor game species for long periods and vast territories.

We present an experimental framework with the involvement of researchers, local hunters, and game managers for the continuous monitoring of wild ungulate populations. By combining vehicle-based counts with Distance sampling techniques, we implemented and validated a sampling scheme able to provide demographic information for the effective management of wild ungulate populations. Here, we used an Iberian red deer (Cervus elaphus) population as a model.

The project implementation involved 30 participants including 24 stakeholders and 6 field technicians/data analysts with experience in monitoring wild ungulates. A total of eight teams covered 29 itineraries, synchronously, in two periods of ecological relevance for red deer, early summer and early autumn. Density estimates were consistent among sampling periods and characterized by acceptable coefficients of variation (approximately 20%). Our results prove that the application of the proposed framework is feasible (3-4 itineraries per team), cost- and time-effective (one week per sampling period), and produce population estimates fit for management. Being based on direct observations, the method would provide important demographic indicators (e.g., population density, age structure and fawn recruitment, and group size) about wild ungulate populations.

Apart from engaging interested stakeholders, the success of our proposal relies on three key actions including the theoretical and field instruction of participants, the definition of timely and unbiased survey designs, and the maintenance of participants’ motivation. The implementation of rigorous and standardized sampling protocols is pivotal for data integration through time and space. In the absence of continuous funding, the voluntary collaboration between entities should be fostered to study and mitigate the potential threats to wild ungulate populations resulting from disease, unregulated hunting, and environmental changes.

Funding

Fundação para a Ciência e a Tecnologia, Award: CEECIND/01428/2018