Sources of Variation in a Two-Step Monitoring Protocol for Species Clustered in Conspicuous Points: Dolichotis patagonum as a Case Study

In species showing distributions attached to particular features of the landscape or conspicuous signs, counts are commonly made by making focal observations where animals concentrate. However, to obtain density estimates for a given area, independent searching for signs and occupancy rates of suitable sites is needed. In both cases, it is important to estimate detection probability and other possible sources of variation to avoid confounding effects on measurements of abundance variation. Our objective was to assess possible bias and sources of variation in a two-step protocol in which random designs were applied to search for signs while continuously recording video cameras were used to perform abundance counts where animals are concentrated, using mara (Dolichotis patagonum) as a case study. The protocol was successfully applied to maras within the Península Valdés protected area, given that the protocol was logistically suitable, allowed warrens to be found, the associated adults to be counted, and the detection probability to be estimated. Variability was documented in both components of the two-step protocol. These sources of variation should be taken into account when applying this protocol. Warren detectability was approximately 80% with little variation. Factors related to false positive detection were more important than imperfect detection. The detectability for individuals was approximately 90% using the entire day of observations. The shortest sampling period with a similar detection capacity than a day was approximately 10 hours, and during this period, the visiting dynamic did not show trends. For individual mara, the detection capacity of the camera was not significantly different from the observer during fieldwork. The presence of the camera did not affect the visiting behavior of adults to the warren. Application of this protocol will allow monitoring of the near-threatened mara providing a minimum local population size and a baseline for measuring long-term trends.