Assessing the effects of survey-inherent disturbance on primate detectability: Recommendations for line transect distance sampling
Tijdschriftbijdrage - Tijdschriftartikel
Habitat destruction and over-hunting are increasingly threatening the arboreal primates of Central Africa. To establish effective conservation strategies, accurate assessments of primate density, abundance, and spatial distribution are required. To date, the method of choice for primate density estimation is line transect distance sampling. However, primates fleeing human observers violate methodological assumptions, biasing the accuracy of resulting estimates. In this study, we used line transect distance sampling to study five primate species along 378 km of transects in Salonga National Park, Democratic Republic of the Congo. We tested the effect of different levels of survey-inherent disturbance (i.e., cutting) on the number of observed (i) primate groups, and (ii) individuals within groups, by counting groups at three different time lags after disturbance of the transect, (i) a minimum of 3 h, (ii) 24 h, (iii) a minimum of 3 days. We found that survey-inherent disturbance led to underestimated densities, affecting both the number of encountered groups and of observed individuals. However, the response varied between species due to species-specific ecological and behavioral features. Piliocolobus tholloni and Colobus angolenis resumed an unaltered behavior only 24 h after disturbance, while Lophocebus aterrimus, Cercopithecus ascanius, and Cercopithecus wolfi required a minimum of 10 days. To minimize bias in density estimates, future surveys using line transect distance sampling should be designed considering survey-inherent disturbance. We recommend evaluating the factors driving primate response, including habitat type, niche occupation, and hunting pressure, peculiar to the survey-specific area and primate community under study.