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

Lonsinger, R. C., E. M. Gese, R. N. Knight, T. R. Johnson, and L. P. Waits. 2016. Quantifying and correcting for scat removal in noninvasive carnivore scat surveys. Wildlife Biology 22:45–54. doi: 10.2981/wlb.00179.


Scat surveys are commonly used to monitor wildlife populations. For carnivores, surveys are typically conducted along roads and trails. Scats available for detection may not reflect scats deposited and variation in disappearance may bias results. Previous research has investigated natural decay and deterioration, but scats deposited along roads or trails are likely influenced to a greater degree by anthropogenic disturbance in some systems. We used experimental plots to evaluate variation in scat removal for two model carnivores, coyote Canis latrans and kit fox Vulpes macrotis, along roads in the Great Basin Desert, USA. Using parametric survival regression, we predicted scat survival and developed persistence-rate correction factors, which were applied to results from relative abundance scat surveys conducted along 15 transects. Kit fox scats disappeared more rapidly than coyote scats, with 3.3% and 10.6%, respectively, persisting through 42 days. At 14 days, 90.8–41.7% of scats had been removed across road types. Survival models indicated species, road type, scat position and daily traffic were important predictors of scat persistence. Applying persistence-rate correction factors to scat survey results altered the inferred relative abundances. Across seasons, mean corrected:uncorrected relative abundance ratios ranged from 1.0–91.2 for coyotes and 1.3–139.3 for kit foxes, with higher mean ratios being influenced by high corrected relative abundances on roads with high traffic volumes. Understanding scat removal rates and patterns can improve inferences from surveys. Persistence-rate correction factors can be used to reduce bias in indices of abundance, but caution should be used when removal rates are high. Knowledge of spatial variation in persistence can elucidate concerns of false-positives and false-negatives in occupancy and capture–recapture studies. Considering the disparity in scat removal between species and among road types and positions, we recommend practitioners quantify and consider variation in removal when interpreting