A long-term evaluation of biopsy darts and DNA to estimate cougar density

Wildlife Society Bulletin
By: , and 



Accurately estimating cougar (Puma concolor) density is usually based on long-term research consisting of intensive capture and Global Positioning System collaring efforts and may cost hundreds of thousands of dollars annually. Because wildlife agency budgets rarely accommodate this approach, most infer cougar density from published literature, rely on short-term studies, or use hunter harvest data as a surrogate in their jurisdictions; all of which may limit accuracy and increase risk of management actions. In an effort to develop a more cost-effective long-term strategy, we evaluated a research approach using citizen scientists with trained hounds to tree cougars and collect tissue samples with biopsy darts. We then used the DNA to individually identify cougars and employed spatially explicit capture–recapture models to estimate cougar densities. Overall, 240 tissue samples were collected in northeastern Washington, USA, producing 166 genotypes (including recaptures and excluding dependent kittens) of 133 different cougars (8-25/yr) from 2003 to 2011. Mark–recapture analyses revealed a mean density of 2.2 cougars/100 km2 (95% CI=1.1-4.3) and stable to decreasing population trends (β=-0.048, 95% CI=-0.106–0.011) over the 9 years of study, with an average annual harvest rate of 14% (range=7-21%). The average annual cost per year for field sampling and genotyping was US$11,265 ($422.24/sample or $610.73/successfully genotyped sample). Our results demonstrated that long-term biopsy sampling using citizen scientists can increase capture success and provide reliable cougar-density information at a reasonable cost.

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Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title A long-term evaluation of biopsy darts and DNA to estimate cougar density
Series title Wildlife Society Bulletin
DOI 10.1002/wsb.675
Volume 40
Issue 3
Year Published 2016
Language English
Publisher Wiley
Contributing office(s) Northern Rocky Mountain Science Center
Description 10 p.
First page 583
Last page 592
Country United States
State Washington
County Ferry County
Other Geospatial Game Management Unit 101
Online Only (Y/N) N
Additional Online Files (Y/N) N
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