Age-related variation in morphometry has been documented for many species. Knowledge of growth patterns can be useful for modeling energetics, detecting physiological influences on populations, and predicting age. These benefits have shown value in understanding population dynamics of invasive species, particularly in developing efficient control and eradication programs. However, development and evaluation of descriptive and predictive models is a critical initial step in this process. Accordingly, we used data from necropsies of 1,544 nutria (Myocastor coypus) collected in Maryland, USA, to evaluate the accuracy of previously published models for prediction of nutria age from body weight. Published models underestimated body weights of our animals, especially for ages <3. We used cross-validation procedures to develop and evaluate models for describing nutria growth patterns and for predicting nutria age. We derived models from a randomly selected model-building data set (n = 192-193 M, 217-222 F) and evaluated them with the remaining animals (n = 487-488 M, 642-647 F). We used nonlinear regression to develop Gompertz growth-curve models relating morphometric variables to age. Predicted values of morphometric variables fell within the 95% confidence limits of their true values for most age classes. We also developed predictive models for estimating nutria age from morphometry, using linear regression of log-transformed age on morphometric variables. The evaluation data set corresponded with 95% prediction intervals from the new models. Predictive models for body weight and length provided greater accuracy and less bias than models for foot length and axillary girth. Our growth models accurately described age-related variation in nutria morphometry, and our predictive models provided accurate estimates of ages from morphometry that will be useful for live-captured individuals. Our models offer better accuracy and precision than previously published models, providing a capacity for modeling energetics and growth patterns of Maryland nutria as well as an empirical basis for determining population age structure from live-captured animals.
Additional publication details
A reexamination of age-related variation in body weight and morphometry of Maryland nutria