Quantifying population status is a key objective in many ecological studies, but is often difficult to achieve for cryptic or elusive species. Here, non-invasive genetic capture-mark-recapture (CMR) methods have become a very important tool to estimate population parameters, such as population size and sex ratio. The Eurasian otter (Lutra lutra) is such an elusive species of management concern and is increasingly studied using faecal-based genetic sampling. For unbiased sex ratios or population size estimates, the marking behaviour of otters has to be taken into account. Using 2132 otter faeces of a wild otter population in Upper Lusatia (Saxony, Germany) collected over six years (2006-2012), we studied the marking behaviour and applied closed population CMR models accounting for genetic misidentification to estimate population sizes and sex ratios. We detected a sex difference in the marking behaviour of otters with jelly samples being more often defecated by males and placed actively exposed on frequently used marking sites. Since jelly samples are of higher DNA quality, it is important to not only concentrate on this kind of samples or marking sites and to invest in sufficiently high numbers of repetitions of non-jelly samples to ensure an unbiased sex ratio. Furthermore, otters seemed to increase marking intensity due to the handling of their spraints, hence accounting for this behavioural response could be important. We provided the first precise population size estimate with confidence intervals for Upper Lusatia (for 2012: N =20± 2.1, 95% CI = 16-25) and showed that spraint densities are not a reliable index for abundances. We further demonstrated that when minks live in sympatry with otters and have comparably high densities, a non-negligible number of supposed otter samples are actually of mink origin. This could severely bias results of otter monitoring if samples are not genetically identified.
Lampa, S., Mihoub, J. B., GRUBER, B., Klenke, R., & Henle, K. (2015). Non-invasive genetic mark-recapture as a means to study population sizes and marking behaviour of the elusive Eurasian otter (Lutra lutra). PLoS One, 10(5), 1-20. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0125684