Developing and validating population models to estimate wildlife densities and inform land-use management in industrializing boreal landscapes
Monitoring of population density is crucial for conserving wildlife species and determining responses to management efforts. However, estimating density is particularly difficult when individuals are not distinguishable from each other. There is pressing need to validate the robustness of recently developed models that estimate density from such ‘unmarked’ populations before widespread application to real-world data, especially for species under management or at risk. We use simulations and field-collected data to investigate the performance of such population density models under different realistic ecological and data conditions. We then apply the gained insights to estimate densities of caribou, which are declining and of conservation concern, and white-tailed deer, moose, wolf, and black bear in two boreal landscapes in northern Alberta that have experienced natural and anthropogenic disturbance. This work will provide critically needed density estimates to monitor the status of boreal wildlife species, while offering guidance for navigating the numerous approaches for estimating population density.