A statistical model is developed for estimating species richness and accumulation by formulating these community-level attributes as functions of model-based estimators of species occurrence while accounting for imperfect detection of individual species. The model requires a sampling protocol wherein repeated observations are made at a collection of sample locations selected to be representative of the community. This temporal replication provides the data needed to resolve the ambiguity between species absence and nondetection when species are unobserved at sample locations. Estimates of species richness and accumulation are computed for two communities, an avian community and a butterfly community. Our model-based estimates suggest that detection failures in many bird species were attributed to low rates of occurrence, as opposed to simply low rates of detection. We estimate that the avian community contains a substantial number of uncommon species and that species richness greatly exceeds the number of species actually observed in the sample. In fact, predictions of species accumulation suggest that even doubling the number of sample locations would not have revealed all of the species in the community. In contrast, our analysis of the butterfly community suggests that many species are relatively common and that the estimated richness of species in the community is nearly equal to the number of species actually detected in the sample. Our predictions of species accumulation suggest that the number of sample locations actually used in the butterfly survey could have been cut in half and the asymptotic richness of species still would have been attained. Our approach of developing occurrence-based summaries of communities while allowing for imperfect detection of species is broadly applicable and should prove useful in the design and analysis of surveys of biodiversity.
Additional publication details
Estimating species richness and accumulation by modeling species occurrence and detectability