Integrating multiple genetic detection methods to estimate population density of social and territorial carnivores

Sean M. Murphy, Ben C. Augustine, Jennifer R. Adams, Lisette P. Waits, John J. Cox

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Scopus citations


Spatial capture–recapture models can produce unbiased estimates of population density, but sparse detection data often plague studies of social and territorial carnivores. Integrating multiple types of detection data can improve estimation of the spatial scale parameter (σ), activity center locations, and density. Noninvasive genetic sampling is effective for detecting carnivores, but social structure and territoriality could cause differential detectability among population cohorts for different detection methods. Using three observation models, we evaluated the integration of genetic detection data from noninvasive hair and scat sampling of the social and territorial coyote (Canis latrans). Although precision of estimated density was improved, particularly if sharing σ between detection methods was appropriate, posterior probabilities of σ and posterior predictive checks supported different σ for hair and scat observation models. The resulting spatial capture–recapture model described a scenario in which scat-detected individuals lived on and around scat transects, whereas hair-detected individuals had larger σ and mostly lived off of the detector array, leaving hair but not scat samples. A more supported interpretation is that individual heterogeneity in baseline detection rates (λ0) was inconsistent between detection methods, such that each method disproportionately detected different population cohorts. These findings can be attributed to the sociality and territoriality of canids: Residents may be more likely to strategically mark territories via defecation (scat deposition), and transients may be more likely to exhibit rubbing (hair deposition) to increase mate attraction. Although this suggests that reliance on only one detection method may underestimate population density, integrating multiple sources of genetic detection data may be problematic for social and territorial carnivores. These data are typically sparse, modeling individual heterogeneity in λ0 and/or σ with sparse data is difficult, and positive bias can be introduced in density estimates if individual heterogeneity in detection parameters that is inconsistent between detection methods is not appropriately modeled. Previous suggestions for assessing parameter consistency of σ between detection methods using Bayesian model selection algorithms could be confounded by individual heterogeneity in λ0 in noninvasive detection data. We demonstrate the usefulness of augmenting those approaches with calibrated posterior predictive checks and plots of the posterior density of activity centers for key individuals.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere02479
Issue number10
StatePublished - Oct 2018

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2018 The Authors.


  • Canis
  • abundance
  • coyote
  • data integration
  • density
  • hair sampling
  • individual heterogeneity
  • noninvasive sampling
  • scat sampling
  • social
  • spatial capture–recapture
  • territorial

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Ecology


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