Research Task: BB00BG4.60.0
Task Manager: Kate Schoenecker
Developing non-invasive techniques to study large mammals is the goal of many wildlife managers and researchers. Handling ungulates causes stress to animals and risk to humans. In certain places, such as Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP), Colorado, flying helicopters to radio tag or mark ungulates is becoming more difficult and less accepted by the public. Development of viable alternatives is needed. Based on research by McClintock (2006), the bighorn sheep population on the east side of the park (Mummy Range) is predicted to become extirpated by 2020 if current rates of decline continue. Thus, bighorn sheep population monitoring in RMNP is a high priority, since population and density estimates are essential for successfully managing and conserving the species. In order to avoid capturing and marking bighorn sheep, FORT scientists are conducting a study to (1) design a sampling protocol for non-invasively monitoring bighorn sheep populations using fecal DNA, and (2) test whether this sampling yields similar population estimates as a radio-collar mark-resight study conducted two years earlier on the same population. Mark-recapture models then can be used to estimate parameters such as population size and survival. Non-invasive protocols will be based on the animal that is captured; the "mark" will be an individual animalís DNA. Data analysis from the first two years of sampling will be needed to determine the viability and reliability of non-invasive population monitoring. If this technique is viable and less costly than traditional aerial helicopter monitoring, RMNP managers may be able to determine trends in bighorn sheep and other wildlife populations to inform management decisions. RMNP managers will be the primary recipients of the research products, although other agencies interested in assessing bighorn sheep population levels will benefit from this work.
For more information contact Kate Schoenecker