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Too many to count: Using orthophotography to census an unharvested beaver (Castor canadensis) population in Ontario

Citation

McLaren, Ashley et al. (2022), Too many to count: Using orthophotography to census an unharvested beaver (Castor canadensis) population in Ontario, Dryad, Dataset, https://doi.org/10.5061/dryad.m37pvmd2f

Abstract

Various field methods exist to monitor wildlife populations and estimate trends in their distribution and abundance. For American beaver (Castor canadensis), aerial surveys provide a means to obtain abundance data over large areas and typically involve observers searching watercourses and shorelines for active beaver presence. Here, we describe a systematic aerial photo census we designed and executed in autumn to quantify annual beaver abundance on the 184 km2 Michipicoten Island, Ontario from 2015–2019. Aerial photos were stitched together into orthophoto mosaics after each census and visually searched for beaver food caches, with each food cache representing an independent beaver colony. Our methods revealed that beaver colony abundance declined substantially from a peak of 6.1 colonies/km2 in 2015, the highest reported across North America, to 0.4 colonies/km2 in 2018. Beaver abundance remained low through 2019. Though photographing the entire isolated study area required relatively little time and effort, even when beaver density was very high, post-census processing work was time-consuming. Lessons learned will improve the efficiencies of our future censuses and aid other researchers. Our method is advantageous over traditional aerial wildlife surveys in that it provides a digital and visual record that can be used for additional analyses. 

Methods

Counts of American beaver food caches and active and inactive lodges over 4 years (2015, 2017, 2018, 2019) from aerial photos taken during transect censuses.

Funding

Ontario Ministry of Northern Development, Mines, Natural Resources and Forestry