Murdoch McAllister

Associate Professor

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Graduate Student Supervision

Doctoral Student Supervision (Jan 2008 - May 2019)
Evaluating key assumptions of a hook-based relative abundance index derived from the catch of bottom longlines (2018)

Catches from bottom longline surveys are used to construct relative abundance indices for many demersal species. Due to their careful design, survey-based relative abundance indices are assumed to be proportional to the true species abundance. However, longlines catches may be affected by interspecific competition, gear saturation, and fine-scale gear and species interactions created by feeding behaviours and habitat preferences. A hook-based relative abundance index, the instantaneous rate of bait loss per species (λs), which accounts for hook competition and gear saturation, may resolve some of the problems with the common catch per unit effort (CPUE) index. I evaluated whether a linear or non-linear relationship exists between the λs index and abundance, and whether assumptions about bare hooks, species behaviours and fine-scale habitat affect the λs index. Using longlines targeting Yelloweye Rockfish (Sebastes ruberrimus) and Quillback Rockfish (S. maliger) in the inside waters of Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada, as a case study, I compared longline catches with underwater observations of the hooks and surrounding species from a Remotely Operated Vehicle in March (n = 13) and August (n = 12) of 2010. The results did not refute a linear model between the λs index and observed density, when compared to a non-linear model, except for the August Yelloweye index. The λs index did have a better fit with observed density than CPUE for Yelloweye, but not for Quillback. Adding hook-level habitat into the λs index improved the fit for Yelloweye, but not for Quillback. Additionally, observations showed that bare hooks were mainly due to non-target species, including large invertebrates. The annual λs index for the rockfish survey was estimated under different scenarios for bare hooks and species interactions, but the trends in the λs index were robust. Trends in the λs index differed from CPUE trends in some areas. My research results cast some doubt on the assumption that for a few inshore rockfish the λs index is consistently linearly related to abundance. Caution needs to be taken in extrapolating these results to other situations, as the experiments occurred in a small area and incorporated limited seasonal and temporal variation.

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Evaluation of restricted-area culling strategies to control local red fox density (2015)

Lethal control of red foxes is often implemented on restricted areas where immigration from neighbouring sources is expected to make it difficult to keep local fox density low. The justification of lethal wildlife control should include demonstrating its effectiveness. To this end, population dynamics modelling may help to assess the performance of different control strategies in a range of real-world circumstances. A Bayesian state-space model for within-year fox population dynamics was developed that could be fitted to data on daily culling effort and success obtained from gamekeepers on shooting estates in Britain. The estimation model included parameters for key population processes within the culling area: immigration, cub recruitment and non-culling mortality. A simulation-estimation study showed that given a minimum of three years’ data the estimation of fox density and demographic parameters was reliable. Informative priors for the key model parameters were constructed using empirical data and meta-analysis. Data from 22 estates were modelled on a two-weekly time-step. Most estates achieved some suppression of the fox population relative to estimated carrying capacity, but few maintained consistently low densities. The number of foxes killed was a poor indicator of culling effectiveness, highlighting the need for modelling. Estimated immigration rates onto estates were typically high, indicating rapid replacement of culled foxes. There was unexpectedly high spatial variation among estates in estimated carrying capacity and immigration rate. There was evidence from a limited subset of estates that the variable density of released game birds may explain this. The food requirement of the fox population during the nesting period was assumed to indicate predation pressure on wild birds. Alternative culling strategies to reduce this requirement were evaluated using posterior parameter estimates from some estates. Culling concentrated in spring and summer only was more effective than culling uniformly throughout the year. Autumn-only culling was not an effective strategy for wild birds. Open-loop strategies were most effective as culling effort was used all the time. However, closed-loop strategies, where culling effort was conditional on feedback from simulated field-sign searches, achieved similar effects on food requirements using less effort. This revealed trade-offs between effectiveness, cost and animal welfare.

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