Wednesday, 2 November 2016

Aerial surveys of elephants, other mammals may underestimate numbers

Date: November 1, 2016
Source: University of Massachusetts at Amherst

As lead researchers in Africa's recent Great Elephant Census, wildlife ecologists Curtice Griffin and Scott Schlossberg at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, with Elephants Without Borders director Mike Chase, also evaluated elephant counting methods in the wild. In a paper this month in PLOS ONE, authors suggest that the two main census methods now in use may be undercounting elephants and that population estimates from both are biased low.

"Because factors such as observer and habitat affected detectability of elephants, comparisons of elephant populations across time or space may be confounded," they write. They encourage survey teams to incorporate "detectability analysis" in all aerial surveys for mammals and suggest that researchers "should assume that their results are biased low by at least 10-15 percent and possibly more." More study is needed to determine the amount of undercounting for other species and factors affecting their detectability, they add.

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