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

Rosenblatt, E., R. Mickey, S. Creel, K. Gieder, J. Murdoch, and T. Donovan. 2023. Advances in wildlife abundance estimation using pedigree reconstruction. Ecology and Evolution 13(10):e10650.


The conservation and management of wildlife populations, particularly for threatened and endangered species are greatly aided with abundance, growth rate, and density measures. Traditional methods of estimating abundance and related metrics represent trade-offs in effort and precision of estimates. Pedigree reconstruction is an emerging, attractive alternate approach because its use of one-time, noninvasive sampling of individuals to infer the existence of unsampled individuals. However, advances in pedigree reconstruction could improve its utility, including forming a measure of precision for the method, establishing required spatial sampling effort for accurate estimates, ascertaining the spatial extent of abundance estimates derived from pedigree reconstruction, and assessing how population density affects the estimator's performance. Using established relationships for a stochastic, spatially explicit simulated moose (Alces americanus) population, pedigree reconstruction provided accurate estimates of the adult moose population size and trend. Novel bootstrapped confidence intervals performed as expected with intensive sampling but underperformed with moderate sampling efforts that could produce abundance estimates with low bias. Adult population estimates more closely reflected the total number of adults in the extant population, rather than number of adults inhabiting the area where sampling occurred. Increasing sampling effort, measured as the proportion of individuals sampled and as the proportion of a hypothetical study area, yielded similar asymptotic patterns over time. Simulations indicated a positive relationship between animal density and sampling effort required for unbiased estimates. These results indicate that pedigree reconstruction can produce accurate abundance estimates and may be particularly valuable for surveying smaller areas and low-density populations.