Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Units Program: New York
Education, Research and Technical Assistance for Managing Our Natural Resources

New York Project

Leveraging partial identity information to advance noninvasive genetic, remote camera, and bioacoustics sampling of animal populations and improve conservation decision making

March 2017 - March 2020


Participating Agencies

  • Atkinson Center for a Sustainable Future, Cornell University

Over the past two decades, new technologies have affected the way we study and understand animal populations. New, noninvasive methods for monitoring wildlife species such as genetic data from hair or scat samples, remote cameras, and bioacoustic monitoring, have allowed researchers to collect more abundant data than was previously possible. However, to estimate population parameters relevant to conservation decisions such as population density and growth rates, individuals must be individually identifiable which is only possible for small subset of species for which individual identities are easily determined such as the flank patterns of tigers seen in photographs or species that yield high quality DNA samples. The vast majority of noninvasive applications do not always provide an unambiguous determination of individual identity. Estimation methods that incorporate partial identity information have only recently been developed and have not been extended to accommodate most types of partial identity problems that arise with noninvasive sampling. Further, the importance of the spatial location where a noninvasive sample is collected in determining individual identity has only recently been recognized and this information greatly improves the utility of noninvasive methods and introduces new, more efficient, study design options. The key idea of what we termed “spatial partial identity” is that because animal populations are spatially structured, the location where a noninvasive sample was collected contains information about its individual identity. This research will generalize and adapt the spatial partial identity model to accommodate three other types of noninvasive sampling methods— genetic material from scat or hair samples, remote camera studies of species with more ambiguous natural marks (e.g. pumas), and bioacoustics surveys—with the principal goal of extending the utility of noninvasive methods for improving conservation decisions to a wider range of threatened species.