TitleThe truth about scats and dogs: Next-generation sequencing and spatial capture-recapture models offer opportunities for conservation monitoring of an endangered social canid
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2021
AuthorsSrivathsa A, Rodrigues RG, Ben Toh K, Zachariah A, Taylor RW, Oli MK, Ramakrishnan U
Date Published04/2021

Obtaining accurate population counts of endangered species is central to conservation biology, with implications for gaining ecological insights, informing management strategies, and judicial use of conservation funds. Despite decades of progress in methodological developments in the realm of population ecology, reliable density estimates are unavailable for many species of conservation concern. The dhole (Asiatic wild dog Cuon alpinus) is one such endangered large carnivore found in the tropical forests of south and southeast Asia. Here, we (i) develop next-generation sequencing resources to identify individual dholes from genetic samples, (ii) apply these methods to identify individuals in the wild, from scat (fecal) samples collected through systematic field surveys and (iii) generate reliable estimates of dhole densities in Wayanad Wildlife Sanctuary (Western Ghats, India) using Spatial Capture-Recapture 'SCR' models. We estimate dhole densities to be 12-14.2 individuals/100 sq. km based on a set of SCR models, with similar to 50 individuals within Wayanad's administrative boundary. Our study presents a methodological improvement in generating population estimates of an important apex predator while also offering ecologically informative insights on a species in dire need of science-based management efforts. Replicating this study across connected reserves and over time can serve as a unified framework for understanding population dynamics, population structures, landscape connectivity and metapopulation-level conservation requirements. We propose that the approach presented here may be adopted as an economically and logistically feasible protocol for conservation monitoring of dholes and other ecologically important species plagued by similar issues of data-deficiency, and insufficient funding and resources.