Although monitoring population trends is an essential component of game species management, wildlife managers rarely have complete counts of abundance. Often, they rely on population models to monitor population trends. As imperfect representations of real-world populations, models must be rigorously evaluated to be applied appropriately. Previous research has evaluated population models for white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus); however, the precision and reliability of these models when tested against empirical measures of variability and bias largely is untested. We were able to statistically evaluate the Pennsylvania sex-age-kill (PASAK) population model using realistic error measured using data from 1,131 radiocollared white-tailed deer in Pennsylvania from 2002 to 2008. We used these data and harvest data (number killed, age-sex structure, etc.) to estimate precision of abundance estimates, identify the most efficient harvest data collection with respect to precision of parameter estimates, and evaluate PASAK model robustness to violation of assumptions. Median coefficient of variation (CV) estimates by Wildlife Management Unit, 13.2% in the most recent year, were slightly above benchmarks recommended for managing game species populations. Doubling reporting rates by hunters or doubling the number of deer checked by personnel in the field reduced median CVs to recommended levels. The PASAK model was robust to errors in estimates for adult male harvest rates but was sensitive to errors in subadult male harvest rates, especially in populations with lower harvest rates. In particular, an error in subadult (1.5-yr-old) male harvest rates resulted in the opposite error in subadult male, adult female, and juvenile population estimates. Also, evidence of a greater harvest probability for subadult female deer when compared with adult (≥2.5-yr-old) female deer resulted in a 9.5% underestimate of the population using the PASAK model. Because obtaining appropriate sample sizes, by management unit, to estimate harvest rate parameters each year may be too expensive, assumptions of constant annual harvest rates may be necessary. However, if changes in harvest regulations or hunter behavior influence subadult male harvest rates, the PASAK model could provide an unreliable index to population changes.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
- Nature and Landscape Conservation