Comparison of Hoop-net Trapping and Visual Surveys to Monitor Abundance of the Rio Grande Cooter (Pseudemys gorzugi)
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Abundance estimates play an important part in the regulatory and conservation decision-making process. It is important to correct monitoring data for imperfect detection when using these data to track spatial and temporal variation in abundance, especially in the case of rare and elusive species. This paper presents the first attempt to estimate abundance of the Rio Grande cooter (Pseudemys gorzugi) while explicitly considering the detection process. Specifically, in 2016 we monitored this rare species at two sites along the Black River, New Mexico via traditional baited hoop-net traps and less invasive visual surveys to evaluate the efficacy of these two sampling designs. We fitted the Huggins closed-capture estimator to estimate capture probabilities using the trap data and distance sampling models to estimate detection probabilities using the visual survey data. We found that only the visual survey with the highest number of observed turtles resulted in similar abundance estimates to those estimated using the trap data. However, the estimates of abundance from the remaining visual survey data were highly variable and often underestimated abundance relative to the estimates from the trap data. We suspect this pattern is related to changes in the basking behavior of the species and, thus, the availability of turtles to be detected even though all visual surveys were conducted when environmental conditions were similar. Regardless, we found that riverine habitat conditions limited our ability to properly conduct visual surveys at one site. Collectively, this suggests visual surveys may not be an effective sample design for this species in this river system. When analyzing the trap data, we found capture probabilities to be highly variable across sites and between age classes and that recapture probabilities were much lower than initial capture probabilities, highlighting the importance of accounting for detectability when monitoring this species. Although baited hoop-net traps seem to be an effective sampling design, it is important to note that this method required a relatively high trap effort to reliably estimate abundance. This information will be useful when developing a larger-scale, long-term monitoring program for this species of concern.