Clusters or groups of individuals are the fundamental unit of observation in many wildlife sampling problems, including aerial surveys of waterfowl, marine mammals, and ungulates. Explicit accounting of cluster size in models for estimating abundance is necessary because detection of individuals within clusters is not independent and detectability of clusters is likely to increase with cluster size. This induces a cluster size bias in which the average cluster size in the sample is larger than in the population at large. Thus, failure to account for the relationship between delectability and cluster size will tend to yield a positive bias in estimates of abundance or density. I describe a hierarchical modeling framework for accounting for cluster-size bias in animal sampling. The hierarchical model consists of models for the observation process conditional on the cluster size distribution and the cluster size distribution conditional on the total number of clusters. Optionally, a spatial model can be specified that describes variation in the total number of clusters per sample unit. Parameter estimation, model selection, and criticism may be carried out using conventional likelihood-based methods. An extension of the model is described for the situation where measurable covariates at the level of the sample unit are available. Several candidate models within the proposed class are evaluated for aerial survey data on mallard ducks (Anas platyrhynchos).
Additional Publication Details
Hierarchical modeling of cluster size in wildlife surveys
Journal of Agricultural, Biological, and Environmental Statistics