Using a modelling approach to inform progress towards stoat eradication from the Orkney Islands

Karol Zub, Pablo Garcia Diaz, Sarah Sankey, Robert Eisler, Xavier Lambin

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Invasive non-native species eradication attempts are typically large and expensive projects that benefit from the support of quantitative tools, such as population models, to be completed within the scheduled and funded time. Managed ecosystems are constantly changing due to population and ecosystem dynamics. Accordingly, any model predictions need to be updated, using
different sources of data, to inform the project about the progress towards eradication. The stoat Mustela erminea was introduced to the hitherto predatory land mammal free Orkney Islands around 2010. In 2016, a project aiming to eradicate stoats to preserve ecologically and economically important native wildlife was designed and implemented. It entailed a “knockdown” phase followed by a “mopping-up” phase to remove stoats that escaped capture. We used data from this project to iteratively predict the progress toward eradication.
We applied spatially explicit individual-based models to estimate the proportion of stoats being exposed to capture, and then compared these simulation-based predictions with removal data, allowing us to estimate changes in the population size through time. We also used sighting data from members of the public to refine eradication probability. We were also able to demonstrate how the initially wide uncertainty gradually diminished as more evidence accumulated. The information derived from different types of data and quantitative models allowed us to track the efficacy of current trapping regimes and to help to inform project managers about the likelihood of having achieved the knockdown phase milestone. Our analyses confirmed that the expected magnitude of the initial knockdown phase has been achieved in some areas, but also revealed spatial and temporal heterogeneity in the distribution of captures, most likely caused by the sequential trapping and stoat movement and trap shy stoats exposed to capture but not caught. This heterogeneity calls for additional data sources (e. g., from camera traps or detection dogs) to estimate the proportion of trap-shy individuals and the size of the untrapped population, and ultimately the feasibility of eradication.
Original languageEnglish
Article number780102
Number of pages15
JournalFrontiers in Conservation Science
Early online date18 Jan 2022
Publication statusPublished - 18 Jan 2022

Bibliographical note

For the analyses reported in this paper study, KZ was financed by the Bekker programme of the Polish National Agency for Academic Exchange (NAWA), grant PPN/BEK/2019/1/00036 to KZ. PGD and XL were supported in part by the NERC grant (NE/S011641/1). The ONWP funders: National Lottery Heritage Fund, EU life programme (LIFE17 UK/NAT/000557), Nature Scot and RSPB.


We would like to acknowledge all the ONWP staff and volunteers who have collected and facilitated the collection of data, all the landowners on Orkney who have generously given access to their land, the ONWP steering group members (Graham Neville and Daniel Brazier, NatureScot; Susan Shearer and Stuart West, Orkney Islands Council and Kirsty Nutt and Leigh Lock, RSPB) and the Technical Advisory Group (Peter Robertson, Newcastle University; Robbie Macdonald, University of Exeter; Des Thompson, NatureScot; Tony Martin, University of Dundee; Lindsay Waddell, National Gamekeepers' Organisation; Karen Varnham, RSPB; Grant Harper, Biodiversity Restoration; Angela Newport, Conservation Dog


  • adaptive management
  • Citizen science
  • invasive species
  • Orkney
  • Spatially explicit model
  • Stoat


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