Sources of bias in applying close-kin mark-recapture to terrestrial game species with different life histories

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Close-kin mark-recapture (CKMR) is a method analogous to traditional mark-recapture but without requiring recapture of individuals. Instead, multilocus genotypes (genetic marks) are used to identify related individuals in one or more sampling occasions, which enables the opportunistic use of samples from harvested wildlife. To apply the method accurately, it is important to build appropriate CKMR models that do not violate assumptions linked to the species' and population's biology and sampling methods. In this study, we evaluated the implications of fitting overly simplistic CKMR models to populations with complex reproductive success dynamics or selective sampling. We used forward-in-time, individual-based simulations to evaluate the accuracy and precision of CKMR abundance and survival estimates in species with different longevities, mating systems, and sampling strategies. Simulated populations approximated a range of life histories among game species of North America with lethal sampling to evaluate the potential of using harvested samples to estimate population size. Our simulations show that CKMR can yield nontrivial biases in both survival and abundance estimates, unless influential life history traits and selective sampling are explicitly accounted for in the modeling framework. The number of kin pairs observed in the sample, in combination with the type of kinship used in the model (parent-offspring pairs and/or half-sibling pairs), can affect the precision and/or accuracy of the estimates. CKMR is a promising method that will likely see an increasing number of applications in the field as costs of genetic analysis continue to decline. Our work highlights the importance of applying population-specific CKMR models that consider relevant demographic parameters, individual covariates, and the protocol through which individuals were sampled.

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