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

J. G. A. Martin, M. Festa-Bianchet, S. D. Côté, D. T. Blumstein

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


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.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)118-123
Number of pages6
JournalCanadian Journal Of Zoology/Revue Canadien De Zoologie
Issue number3
Early online date24 Jan 2013
Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2013


  • accuracy
  • repeatability
  • yellow-bellied marmot
  • mountain goat
  • bighorn sheep


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