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

Augustine, B.C., J.A. Royle, D.W. Linden, and A.K. Fuller. 2020. Spatial proximity moderates genotype uncertainty in genetic tagging studies. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences


Accelerating declines of an increasing number of animal populations worldwide necessitate methods to reliably and efficiently estimate demographic parameters such as population density and trajectory. Standard methods for estimating demographic parameters from noninvasive genetic samples are inefficient because lower-quality samples cannot be used, and they assume individuals are identified without error. We introduce the genotype spatial partial identity model (gSPIM), which integrates a genetic classification model with a spatial population model to combine both spatial and genetic information, thus reducing genotype uncertainty and increasing the precision of demographic parameter estimates. We apply this model to data from a study of fishers (Pekania pennanti) in which 37% of hair samples were originally discarded because of uncertainty in individual identity. The gSPIM density estimate using all collected samples was 25% more precise than the original density estimate, and the model identified and corrected three errors in the original individual identity assignments. A simulation study demonstrated that our model increased the accuracy and precision of density estimates 63 and 42%, respectively, using three replicated assignments (e.g., PCRs for microsatellites) per genetic sample. Further, the simulations showed that the gSPIM model parameters are identifiable with only one replicated assignment per sample and that accuracy and precision are relatively insensitive to the number of replicated assignments for high-quality samples. Current genotyping protocols devote the majority of resources to replicating and confirming high-quality samples, but when using the gSPIM, genotyping protocols could be more efficient by devoting more resources to low-quality samples.