Estimating deer abundance from line transect surveys of dung: sika deer in southern Scotland.
Accurate and precise estimates of abundance are required for the development of management regimes for deer populations. In woodland areas, indirect dung count methods, such as the clearance plot and standing crop methods, are currently the preferred procedures to estimate deer abundance. The use of line transect methodology is likely to provide a cost-effective alternative to these methods. We outline a methodology based on line transect surveys of deer dung that can be used to obtain deer abundance estimates by geographical block and habitat type. Variance estimation procedures are also described. As an example, we applied the method to estimate sika deer Cervus nippon abundance in south Scotland during February to April 1998. Estimates of deer defaecation and length of time to dung decay were used to convert pellet group density to deer density by geographical block and habitat type. The results obtained agreed with knowledge from cull and sightings data, and the precision of the estimates was generally high. Relatively high sika deer densities observed in moorland areas up to 300 m from the forest edge indicated the need to encompass those areas in future surveys to avoid an underestimate of deer abundance in the region of interest. It is unlikely that a single method for estimating deer abundance will prove to be better under all circumstances. Direct comparisons between methods are required to evaluate thoroughly the relative merits of each of them. Line transect surveys of dung are becoming a widely used tool to aid management and conservation of a wide range of species. The survey methodology we outline is readily adaptable to other vertebrates that are amenable to dung survey methodology.