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    The challenge of estimating wildlife populations at scale: the case of the European badger (Meles meles) in Ireland


    Byrne, Andrew W. and Parnell, Andrew and O’Keeffe, James and Madden, Jamie M. (2021) The challenge of estimating wildlife populations at scale: the case of the European badger (Meles meles) in Ireland. European Journal of Wildlife Research, 67 (5). ISSN 1612-4642

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    Abstract

    Estimating population size in space and time is essential for applied ecology and wildlife management purposes; however, making accurate and precise estimates at large scales is highly challenging. An example is the European badger (Meles meles), a widespread and abundant mammal in Ireland. Due to their role in the epidemiology of bovine tuberculosis, the species has been culled in agriculturally dominant landscapes with the intention of reducing spillback infection to local cattle populations. Despite several studies using different approaches having estimated badger populations at different time points and scales, there remains considerable uncertainty regarding the current population and its future trajectory. To explore this uncertainty, we use published data and expert opinion to estimate a snapshot of probable badger population size using a Monte Carlo approach, incorporating variation in three key components: social group numbers, group size, and culling efficacy. Using this approach, we estimate what the badger population in Ireland would be with/without culling, assuming a steady-state population at carrying capacity, and discuss the limitations of our current understanding. The mean estimate for the badger population size was 63,188 (5–95th percentile, 48,037–79,315). Population estimates were sensitive to the assumption of mean group size across landscape type. Assuming a cessation of culling (in favour of vaccination, for example) in agricultural areas, the mean estimated population size was 92,096 (5–95th percentile, 67,188–118,881). Despite significant research being conducted on badgers, estimates on population size at a national level in Ireland are only approximate, which is reflected in the large uncertainty in the estimates from this study and inconsistencies between recording of data parameters in previous studies. Focusing on carefully estimating group size, factors impacting its variation, in addition to understanding the dynamics of repopulation post-culling, could be a fruitful component to concentrate on to improve the precision of future estimates.

    Item Type: Article
    Keywords: Abundance; Population estimation; Monte Carlo simulation; Wildlife; Meles meles;
    Academic Unit: Faculty of Science and Engineering > Mathematics and Statistics
    Faculty of Science and Engineering > Research Institutes > Hamilton Institute
    Item ID: 15527
    Identification Number: https://doi.org/10.1007/s10344-021-01528-9
    Depositing User: Andrew Parnell
    Date Deposited: 17 Feb 2022 10:30
    Journal or Publication Title: European Journal of Wildlife Research
    Publisher: Springer
    Refereed: Yes
    URI:

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