Module 2: Ungulate Surveys
An on-line resource for practitioners
About this course
Asia’s mountain ungulates– also known as the Mountain Monarchs of high Asia- play an important role in maintaining ecosystems by influencing vegetation structure and nutrient cycling. These include Argali (Ovis ammon), Blue Sheep (Pseudois nayaur), Asiatic Ibex (Capra sibirica), Urial (Ovis orientalis) and Markhor (Capra falconeri). However, owing to their remote mountainous habitats and associated challenges in sampling, there is a lack of information regarding their abundance, population trends and ecology. There is a need for more information about the population status of these ungulates, which carries special significance in the protection of the snow leopard across its range.
Our Module 2 aims to equip participants with the knowledge and tools to plan and carry out robust mountain ungulate surveys using the Double-observer Method. We dive into understanding the fascinating ecology of these species based on the latest research. The module is divided into 4 parts and cover key concepts from planning surveys, conducting them, analysing data, and using outcomes for conservation action, publication and/or policy. Alongside we will have fascinating talks by subject experts, sharing their experiences and outputs. This is critical as conservation status assessment of any species requires rigorous monitoring of their abundances, which done over time, can provide knowledge of population trends.
This course was conducted live through on-line sessions with Snow Leopard Network participants in August 2020. The training took place over 4 sessions (each 2 hours) corresponding to key learnings necessary for designing and carrying out double observer surveys to assess ungulate abundance and density. The recordings from this live training are now available below. Do follow the outlined structure of the course as each session builds on each other. In total the course consists of 8 hours of video presentation and discussion.
Skills you will gain
- Basic sampling techniques
- Double observer principles
- The ability to plan a double observer survey
- Distinguishing between ungulate sex and age class
- Analyzing your ungulate data in R
Meet the Trainers
Meet the Trainers
This module has been co-created by a team of researchers and practitioners from across the snow leopard range, including India, Pakistan, Mongolia and China: Dr. Hussain Ali, Purevjav (Puji) Lkhagvajav, Chagsadulam (Chagsaa) Odonjavkhlan, Dr. Lingyun Xiao and Munib Khanyari. Together the module co-creators have worked to study and protect mountain ungulates including Argali, Asiatic Ibex, Blue Sheep, Markhor and Urial across India, Pakistan, Mongolia, China and Kyrgyzstan.
The live training sessions were led by Munib Khanyari with the support of a number of guest speakers (Chagsadulam (Chagsaa) Odonjavkhlan, Abhirup Khara and Dr. Yash Veer Bhatnagar). Munib is currently a PhD Candidate at the University of Bristol and Oxford University in the UK. He works on understanding factors that affect mountain ungulate populations in Central and South Asia.
This course is a complete toolkit for anyone who is interested in conducting double-observer surveys. I now feel capable in conducting a survey of my own with some assistance. I believe that this is the greatest asset a course can give- provide skills that can be applied by participants.”
This module gave me comprehensive insights into the importance of ungulate surveys, both in terms of research and conservation.
The course is very well structured, with great lecturers, and will help early-stage conservationists gain the needed knowledge and confidence for applying new approaches in ungulate surveys.”
Session 1 comprises of 4 Videos which introduces the importance of monitoring ungulates and a range of monitoring techniques. Please watch the 4 Videos in sequence and test your knowledge with the Session 1 Quizzes. As preparation for this Module please take a look at the following Key References and we hope that you find these articles of interest. Happy reading!
Session 1.1: Introduction to monitoring and importance of monitoring ungulates
This video (19 min) looks at some fundamental questions around why monitoring species populations is important, both from an ecological and conservation perspective. In particular, we talk a little about the importance of monitoring ungulates, as they act as “ecological fulcrums”; being important sources of food for predators while also influencing vegetation.
Session 1.2: Good monitoring- Unbiased and Precise
In this video (16 min) we look at the two key ingredients of good monitoring: Accurate estimates. Accuracy is a sum of unbiased and precise data. We discuss how data can suffer from various issues such as being biased and/or imprecise and how we can understand that our data might be suffering from the same. This is important as accurate estimates are important to understand conservation status of species.
Session 1.3: Sampling, detectability, traditional methods to estimate ungulates and their shortcomings in the mountains.
In this video (44 min) we discuss the importance of sampling and detectability. It is important to understand that any survey, especially in the mountains, is challenged by the fact that not all individuals of the species’ of interest will be detected.
We discuss some commonly used methods to estimate ungulates such as total counts, blocks count and distance sampling. Briefly we discuss the assumptions and how to apply the methods. More importantly we discuss the limitations of these methods in the mountains.
Session 1.4: Introduction to the Double-Observer Method
In this video (37 min), we introduce the Double-Observer (DO) Method. Unlike some of the methods discussed in the previous video, the DO method has assumptions that are more suited for mountain habitats. This video gives a brief insight into the same.
Session 2.1: Planning and conducting DO surveys
In this video (24 min), we look at how to plan for a DO survey. We go over how to define a study area, then demarcate survey blocks within the study area and then finally how to choose survey transects to survey the blocks. We also look into what is needed to be done while conducting the said surveys. We use a real-life example from the Kyrgyz Tien Shan to demonstrate this.
Session 2.2: Handling DO data and a virtual DO survey
In this video (33 min), we discuss how to collect, reconcile and input DO data into field data sheet. As DO is a “mark-recapture theory” based method which needs reconciliation of data, we undertake a virtual DO survey to get a flavor of how the method actually works in the field, some of its practical challenges and perhaps how to overcome/deal with them.
Session 2.3: Reconciling virtual DOS survey data
In this video (30 min), participants try and reconcile data from the virtual DO survey (previous video). We attempt to transfer “field data” into a cleaned up analyzable data sheet. We discuss challenges in reconciling the data, factors that help with reconciling data and importantly how to organize field data in a datasheet that can then be analyzed in the R software.
Session 2.4: Reconciling virtual DOS survey data
In this video (27 min), we discuss how to study mountain ungulates over large landscapes (eg. entire regional distribution of species). Often large landscape studies are logistically challenging to conduct.
Through the example of Ladakh Urial, Researcher Abhirup Khara talks about how his team first employed occupancy over >3,000 km2 to understand Ladakh Urial distribution across its entire potential distribution in India. The team then demarcated two populations and conducted DO surveys to estimate the population size of these two areas. This helps with not only updating conservation status but also concentrating/prioritizing future conservation efforts.
Session 3.1: Analyzing DO data (Forsyth & Hickling 1997)
In this video (12 min), we discuss how to analyze the DO data using the method proposed by Forsyth & Hickling (1997). They were the pioneers in adapting the DO survey to mountain ungulates. While, there have been various analytical advances, this approach provides a basic yet robust way to arrive at population estimates and confidence intervals for the same.
Session 3.2 Analyzing DO data (Suryawanshi et al. 2012)
In this video (31 min), we take one step forward from the previous video where we looked at analyzing DO data using Forsyth & Hickling (1997) method to analyzing the data using methods suggested by Suryawanshi et al. (2012). In this video, we walk through not only the theory behind this updated analysis but also run through the it practically with a mock data set that we analyze using pre-written code in R. This code is available on request. (email firstname.lastname@example.org)
Session 3.3: Studying ungulates for which DO doesn’t apply
In this video (12 min), we will first revisit how data affects DO outputs. Then we will briefly discuss the Random Encounter Model (REM), a camera trap based population estimation technique for species such as Musk Deer, i.e. ungulates for which DO doesn’t necessarily apply given their natural history.
Session 3.4 Importance of Age-Sex classification
In this video (15 min), we discuss the importance of Age-Sex classification, both in helping reconcile DO data, but more broadly to understand various different population and conservation related metric of ungulate populations.
Session 3.5: Age-sex classification of Ibex and Argali
In this video (53 min), as an example of what characteristics to look for, we age-sex classify Ibex (a true goat) and Argali (a true sheep). After going through the Age-sex classification, participants engaged in an activity, where they are provided with real life photographs of Ibex and argali groups from field. Participants practice age-sex classification. We have a discussion as to what features help in age-sex classification and what are the practical challenges in field.
Session 4.1: Using ungulate data for management/conservation
In this video (31 min), we get an overview through published literature of how data collected for ungulates can be used to inform ungulate management and conservation. We specifically look at examples of how ungulate populations can be used to understand snow leopard populations.
Session 4.2: Discussing real-life examples of ungulate conservation: Success and Challenges
In this video (90 min), Dr. Yash Veer Bhatnagar, talks us through nearly 3 decades of experience in researching and conserving ungulates. By using real-life examples including the Asiatic Ibex, Blue Sheep and Tibetan Gazelle in the Indian Himalayas and the Kyrgyz Tien Shan, Dr. Bhatnagar talks about the importance of having an integrated landscape management approach involving multiple stakeholders, as the core of facilitating human-wildlife coexistence. He discusses how ungulates can be at the heart of realizing this integrated landscape management. Through this video, viewers can get a sense of practical challenges, uses and experience of studying ungulates.