Tools for increasing visual encounter probabilities for invasive species removal: a case study of Brown treesnakes.
Early detection and rapid response (EDRR) are essential to identifying and decisively responding to the introduction or spread of an invasive species, thus avoiding population establishment and improving the probability of achieving eradication. However, detection can be challenging at the onset of a species invasion as low population densities can reduce the likelihood of detection and conceal the true extent of the situation until the species is well established. This is doubly challenging if the invading species displays cryptic behavior or is nocturnal, thus further limiting opportunities for its discovery. Survey methods that maximize a searcher's ability to detect an incipient population are therefore critical for successful EDRR. Brown treesnakes (Boiga irregularis) on Guåhan are a classic cautionary example of the dangers of not detecting an invasion early on, and the risk of their introduction to other islands within the Marianas, Hawai'i and beyond remains. Nocturnal visual surveys are known to detect brown treesnakes of all sizes and are the primary detection tool used by the Brown Treesnake Rapid Response Team, but detection probability remains low in complex forest habitats. As such, we investigated the use of two potential enhancements to nocturnal visual surveys - a live mouse lure and spray scent attractant - that may create hotspots of increased detection probability during surveys. We found that, while brown treesnake detection probabilities were low for all surveys, visual surveys conducted on transects with live mouse lures resulted in detection probabilities that were 1.3 times higher than on transects without live mouse lures. Conversely, the spray scent attractant did not increase the probability of detecting brown treesnakes compared to transects without scent, and in fact had detection probabilities that were 0.66 times lower, though the reasons for this phenomenon are unclear. Unlike scent attractants, live mouse lures likely provide both visual and olfactory cues that attract brown treesnakes to transects and thus provide more opportunities to detect and capture them. These enhancements were trialed on Guåhan, where prey populations are depressed. It remains unclear whether live mouse lures will be as effective for EDRR applications in prey-rich settings.