The accuracy of posttranslocation population monitoring methods is critical to assessing long-term success in translocation programs. Translocation can produce unique challenges to monitoring efforts; therefore, it is important to understand the flexibility and robustness of commonly used monitoring methods. In Florida, USA, thousands of gopher tortoises Gopherus polyphemus have been, and continue to be, translocated from development sites to permitted recipient sites. These recipient sites create a broad range of potential monitoring scenarios due to variability in soft-release strategies, habitat conditions, and population demographics. Line transect distance sampling is an effective method for monitoring natural tortoise populations, but it is currently untested for translocated populations. We therefore produced 3,024 individual-based, spatially explicit scenarios of translocated tortoise populations that differed in recipient site and tortoise population properties, based on real-world examples, literature review, and expert opinion. We virtually sampled simulated tortoise populations by using line transect distance sampling methods and built a Bayesian hierarchical model to estimate the population density for each simulation, which incorporated individual-level covariates (i.e., burrow width and burrow occupancy). Line transect distance sampling was largely appropriate for the conditions that typify gopher tortoise recipient sites, particularly when detection probability on the transect lines was greater than or equal to 0.85. Designing the layout of transects relative to the orientation of soft-release pens, to avoid possible sampling biases that lead to extreme outliers in estimates of tortoise densities, resulted in more accurate population estimates. We also suggest that use of individual-level covariates, applied using a Bayesian framework as demonstrated in our study, may improve the applicability of line transect distance sampling surveys in a variety of contexts and that simulation can be a powerful tool for assessing survey design in complex sampling situations.

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Author notes

Citation: Jones MD, Smith LL, Richardson KG, DeSha JN, Castellón T, Hipes D, Kalfin A, Halstead NT, Hunter EA. 2023. Simulation modeling to assess line transect distance sampling under a range of translocation scenarios. Journal of Fish and Wildlife Management 14(s):xx-xx; e1944-687X.

The findings and conclusions in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the views of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

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