Drive counts as a method of estimating ungulate density in forests: Mission impossible?

Jakub Borkowski* (Corresponding Author), Stephen C F Palmer, Zbigniew Borowski

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

30 Citations (Scopus)


Although drive counts are frequently used to estimate the size of deer populations in forests, little is known about how counting methods or the density and social organization of the deer species concerned influence the accuracy of the estimates obtained, and hence their suitability for informing management decisions. As these issues cannot readily be examined for real populations, we conducted a series of 'virtual experiments' in a computer simulation model to evaluate the effects of block size, proportion of forest counted, deer density, social aggregation and spatial auto-correlation on the accuracy of drive counts. Simulated populations of red and roe deer were generated on the basis of drive count data obtained from Polish commercial forests. For both deer species, count accuracy increased with increasing density, and decreased as the degree of aggregation, either demographic or spatial, within the population increased. However, the effect of density on accuracy was substantially greater than the effect of aggregation. Although improvements in accuracy could be made by reducing the size of counting blocks for low-density, aggregated populations, these were limited. Increasing the proportion of the forest counted led to greater improvements in accuracy, but the gains were limited compared with the increase in effort required. If it is necessary to estimate the deer population with a high degree of accuracy (e. g. within 10% of the true value), drive counts are likely to be inadequate whatever the deer density. However, if a lower level of accuracy (within 20% or more) is acceptable, our study suggests that at higher deer densities (more than ca. five to seven deer/100 ha) drive counts can provide reliable information on population size.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)239-253
Number of pages15
JournalActa Theriologica
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jul 2011


  • Aggregation
  • Capreolus capreolus
  • Cervus elaphus
  • Computer simulation
  • Density estimation
  • Drive counts
  • Virtual ecosystem


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