Introduced brushtail possums (Trichosurus vulpecula) are a widespread pest of conservation and agriculture in New Zealand, and considerable effort has been expended controlling populations to low densities. A national protocol for monitoring the abundance of possums, termed trap catch index (TCI), was adopted in 1996. The TCI requires that lines of leghold traps set at 20-m spacing are randomly located in a management area. The traps are set for 3 fine nights and checked daily, and possums are killed and traps reset. The TCI is the mean percentage of trap nights that possums were caught, corrected for sprung traps and nontarget captures, with trap line as the sampling unit. We studied I forest and I farmland area in the North Island, New Zealand, to address concerns that TCI estimates may not be readily comparable because of seasonal changes in the capture probability of possums. We located blocks of 6 trap lines at each area and randomly trapped I line in each block in 3 seasons (summer, winter, and spring) in 2000 and 2001. We developed a model to allow for variation in local population size and nightly capture probability, and fitted the model using the Bayesian analysis software BUGS. Capture probability declined with increasing abundance of possums, generating a nonlinear TCI. Capture probability in farmland was lower during spring relative to winter and summer, and to forest during summer. In the absence of a proven and cost-effective alternative, our results support the continued use of the TCI for monitoring the abundance of possums in New Zealand. Seasonal biases in the TCI should be minimized by conducting repeat sampling in the same season.
Additional publication details
Nonlinearity and seasonal bias in an index of brushtail possum abundance