Mark my words: Experts' choice of marking methods used in capture-mark-recapture studies of small mammals

Thomas S. Jung, Rudy Boonstra, Charles J. Krebs

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Citations (Scopus)


Crucial to the success of studies based on capture-mark-recapture (CMR) designs is the retention (permanency) and recognition (readability) of marks to identify individuals. Several marking methods for small mammals (< 60 g) are available, but their efficacy and use is not well known. We implemented a targeted survey of experts to gather their experiences and opinions regarding marking small mammals. Respondents (n = 114) stated their beliefs, perceptions, and current and future use, of marking methods, as well as factors influencing their choices, based on Likert and rank order scale questions. We compared responses based on where researchers' studies occurred, their level of experience, and their subfield of mammalogy. Most respondents (73%) had > 5 years experience marking small mammals, with 60% each marking > 1,000 individuals. Respondents believed that ear-tagging was most preferable in terms of efficiency, impact to affected animals (survival, pain), and personal ethics, whereas passive integrated transponder (PIT)-tagging was the most preferable with regard to retention and recognition, and toe-clipping with respect to cost. Most respondents plan to use ear-tagging (78%) or PIT-tagging (70%) in the future. PIT- and genetic-tagging are expected to increase, and toe-clipping to decline, in the future. The factors influencing which marking method respondents used were ranked - in order of decreasing preference - as impact, retention, recognition, cost, efficiency, and ethics. There were few differences in the mean response or consensus among respondents, regardless of their experience, location, or subfield. Most respondents (66%) agreed that additional studies on the performance and impact of various marking methods are needed to assess their costs and benefits for CMR-based studies. Ultimately, choice of marking method will depend on the species, research question, available resources, and local legislation and permitting. Our study, however, illustrates that collective insights by experienced mammalogists may aid individual researchers in deciding on study designs and protocols, particularly early career scientists.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)307-317
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Mammalogy
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 21 Feb 2020
Externally publishedYes


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