U.S. Department of Agriculture: Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service


Date of this Version

January 2000


Published by Integrated Pest Management Reviews 5: 197–203, 2000.


Population density estimates for many animal species are often difficult or expensive to obtain, and they rely on assumptions that, if violated, result in unmeasurable estimation errors. Density estimates also may be unnecessary for research or management purposes, because an index that tracks changes in a population within appropriate time and geographic constraints could provide the information necessary to make management decisions or to evaluate the impact of a control program. We review research on a passive tracking index where observations are made on a series of tracking plots placed on lightly used dirt roads. The number of sets of tracks (individual intrusions) are recorded for each species of interest on each plot on consecutive days. The mean number of intrusions over the plots is calculated for each day for each species. The index is the mean of the daily means. These design and measurement methods present valuable advantages over most traditional tracking plot methods. Because no scents or baits are used as attractants, no conditioning of animals to the plots biases the results. This also permits multiple species, predator and prey alike, to be simultaneously monitored. Using the number of animal intrusions as observations produces results that are far more sensitive to change than tracking surveys where only presence or absence of spoor are recorded for each plot. Of particular importance, the statistical properties inherent to this data structure permit calculation of standard errors, confidence intervals and statistical tests, without subjectively subdividing the data.