Spatial capture-recapture design and modelling for the study of small mammals
Jiménez García-Herrera, José
Luque-Larena, Juan José
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Spatial capture-recapture modelling (SCR) is a powerful analytical tool to estimate density and derive information on space use and behaviour of elusive animals. Yet, SCR has been seldom applied to the study of ecologically keystone small mammals. Here we highlight its potential and requirements with a case study on common voles (Microtus arvalis). First, we address mortality associated with live-trapping, which can be high in small mammals, and must be kept minimal. We designed and tested a nest box coupled with a classic Sherman trap and show that it allows a 5-fold reduction of mortality in traps. Second, we address the need to adjust the trapping grid to the individual home range to maximize spatial recaptures. In May-June 2016, we captured and tagged with transponders 227 voles in a 1.2-ha area during two monthly sessions. Using a Bayesian SCR with a multinomial approach, we estimated: (1) the baseline detection rate and investigated variation according to sex, time or behaviour (aversion/attraction after a previous capture); (2) the parameter sigma that describes how detection probability declines as a function of the distance to an individual´s activity centre, and investigated variation according to sex; and (3) density and population sex-ratio. We show that reducing the maximum distance between traps from 12 to 9.6m doubled spatial recaptures and improved model predictions. Baseline detection rate increased over time (after overcoming a likely aversion to entering new odourless traps) and was greater for females than males in June. The sigma parameter of males was twice that of females, indicating larger home ranges. Density estimates were of 142.92±38.50 and 168.25±15.79 voles/ha in May and June, respectively, with 2–3 times more females than males. We highlight the potential and broad applicability that SCR offers and provide specific recommendations for using it to study small mammals like voles.