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Detecting between-individual differences in hind-foot length in populations of wild mammals

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Abstract:

Hind-foot length is a widely used index of skeletal size in population ecology. The accuracy of hind-foot measurements, however, has not been estimated. We quantified measurement error in adult hind-foot length in yellow-bellied marmots (Marmota flaviventris (Audubon and Bachman, 1841)), mountain goats (Oreamnos americanus (de Blainville, 1816)), and bighorn sheep (Ovis canadensis Shaw, 1804) from long-term capture–recapture studies. Fitting a linear mixed effect model for each species separately, we found that hind-foot length was significantly repeatable in the three species, but repeatability was low, ranging from 0.30 to 0.47. Measurement error explained 53%–66% of the variance in foot length. Differences of 6, 13, and 27 mm would be indistinguishable from measurement error for marmots, goats, and sheep, respectively. At least 4–6 measures per individual were needed to detect variation in foot length between individuals of a population using a mixed effect model. Researchers should strive to limit measurement errors because inaccurate measures may obscure important biological patterns.

Keywords: accuracy; bighorn sheep; chèvre de montagne; exactitude; marmotte à ventre jaune; mouflon d’Amérique; mountain goat; repeatability; répétabilité; yellow-bellied marmot

Document Type: Research Article

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1139/cjz-2012-0210

Affiliations: 1: Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of California, 621 Young Drive South, Los Angeles, CA 90095-1606, USA. 2: Département de biologie, Université de Sherbrooke, Sherbrooke, QC J1K 2R1, Canada. 3: Département de biologie, Université Laval, Québec, QC G1V 0A6, Canada. 4: Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of California, 621 Young Drive South, Los Angeles, CA 90095-1606, USA; Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory, Crested Butte, CO 81224, USA.

Publication date: January 1, 2013

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  • Published since 1929, this monthly journal reports on primary research contributed by respected international scientists in the broad field of zoology, including behaviour, biochemistry and physiology, developmental biology, ecology, genetics, morphology and ultrastructure, parasitology and pathology, and systematics and evolution. It also invites experts to submit review articles on topics of current interest.
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