How dear are deer volunteers: The efficiency of monitoring deer using teams of volunteers to conduct pellet group counts
Buesching CD., Newman C., Macdonald DW.
Copyright © Fauna & Flora International 2014. Deer populations are increasing throughout the northern hemisphere, and unregulated numbers can jeopardize biodiversity and the economy. These populations are difficult to monitor using visual counts. Estimating densities from surveys of faecal pellets is reliable but time-consuming and thus, if carried out by professionals, expensive. Utilizing volunteers has clear advantages. Based on research from the UK (6 years) and Nova Scotia, Canada (4 years), we investigated the methodological refinements and training required to achieve reliable data when using volunteers. For safety reasons volunteers worked in teams of 5-10 (n = 611) under supervision of scientists. We compared faecal accumulation rate and faecal standing crop surveys using 10 × 10 m quadrats. Both methods produced similar estimates of density, but because of significant time savings and greater volunteer enjoyment we favour faecal standing crop over faecal accumulation rate surveys. Volunteer teams surveyed quadrats significantly faster than a single professional but needed significantly longer to reach and stake out new quadrats. On average, teams found 68% of all droppings. Performance of individuals was affected by training, gender, and willingness and aptitude to survey. After five quadrats men scored significantly higher than women but this difference was reduced after 20 quadrats. Age did not affect performance but willingness and aptitude correlated with ability to find and identify droppings. We conclude that volunteers can monitor deer effectively but that techniques should be modified. The provision of context, training, supervision and verification by a professional are essential. Because of the drain on scientists' time, cost-effective volunteer deployment is a question of scale.