Accounting for non-independent detection when estimating abundance of organisms with a Bayesian approach

Methods in Ecology and Evolution
By: , and 



Summary 1. Binomial mixture models use repeated count data to estimate abundance. They are becoming increasingly popular because they provide a simple and cost-effective way to account for imperfect detection. However, these models assume that individuals are detected independently of each other. This assumption may often be violated in the field. For instance, manatees (Trichechus manatus latirostris) may surface in turbid water (i.e. become available for detection during aerial surveys) in a correlated manner (i.e. in groups). However, correlated behaviour, affecting the non-independence of individual detections, may also be relevant in other systems (e.g. correlated patterns of singing in birds and amphibians). 2. We extend binomial mixture models to account for correlated behaviour and therefore to account for non-independent detection of individuals. We simulated correlated behaviour using beta-binomial random variables. Our approach can be used to simultaneously estimate abundance, detection probability and a correlation parameter. 3. Fitting binomial mixture models to data that followed a beta-binomial distribution resulted in an overestimation of abundance even for moderate levels of correlation. In contrast, the beta-binomial mixture model performed considerably better in our simulation scenarios. We also present a goodness-of-fit procedure to evaluate the fit of beta-binomial mixture models. 4. We illustrate our approach by fitting both binomial and beta-binomial mixture models to aerial survey data of manatees in Florida. We found that the binomial mixture model did not fit the data, whereas there was no evidence of lack of fit for the beta-binomial mixture model. This example helps illustrate the importance of using simulations and assessing goodness-of-fit when analysing ecological data with N-mixture models. Indeed, both the simulations and the goodness-of-fit procedure highlighted the limitations of the standard binomial mixture model for aerial manatee surveys. 5. Overestimation of abundance by binomial mixture models owing to non-independent detections is problematic for ecological studies, but also for conservation. For example, in the case of endangered species, it could lead to inappropriate management decisions, such as downlisting. These issues will be increasingly relevant as more ecologists apply flexible N-mixture models to ecological data.

Additional publication details

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Accounting for non-independent detection when estimating abundance of organisms with a Bayesian approach
Series title Methods in Ecology and Evolution
Volume 2
Issue 6
Year Published 2011
Language English
Publisher Wiley
Publisher location Hoboken, NJ
Contributing office(s) Patuxent Wildlife Research Center
Description 7 p.
Larger Work Type Article
Larger Work Subtype Journal Article
Larger Work Title Methods in Ecology and Evolution
First page 595
Last page 601