Demographic models, which are a natural extension of capture-recapture (CR) methodology, are a powerful tool to guide decisions when managing wildlife populations. We compare three different modelling approaches to evaluate the effect of increased harvest on the population growth of Greater Snow Geese (Chen caerulescens atlantica). Our first approach is a traditional matrix model where survival was reduced to simulate increased harvest. We included environmental stochasticity in the matrix projection model by simulating good, average, and bad years to account for the large inter-annual variation in fecundity and first-year survival, a common feature of birds nesting in the Arctic. Our second approach is based on the elasticity (or relative sensitivity) of population growth rate (lambda) to changes in survival as simple functions of generation time. Generation time was obtained from the mean transition matrix based on the observed proportion of good, average and bad years between 1985 and 1998. If we assume that hunting mortality is additive to natural mortality, then a simple formula predicts changes in lambda as a function of changes in harvest rate. This second approach can be viewed as a simplification of the matrix model because it uses formal sensitivity results derived from population projection. Our third, and potentially more powerful approach, uses the Kalman Filter to combine information on demographic parameters, i.e. the population mechanisms summarized in a transition matrix model, and the census information (i.e. annual survey) within an overall Gaussian likelihood. The advantage of this approach is that it minimizes process and measured uncertainties associated with both the census and demographic parameters based on the variance of each estimate. This third approach, in contrast to the second, can be viewed as an extension of the matrix model, by combining its results with the independent census information.
Greater Snow Geese, Population model, Transition matrix, Generation time, Hunting mortality, Kalman Filter
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