Disease surveillance in wildlife populations involves detecting the presence of a disease, characterizing its prevalence and spread, and subsequent monitoring. A probability sample of animals selected from the population and corresponding estimators of disease prevalence and detection provide estimates with quantifiable statistical properties, but this approach is rarely used. Although wildlife scientists often assume probability sampling and random disease distributions to calculate sample sizes, convenience samples (i.e., samples of readily available animals) are typically used, and disease distributions are rarely random. We demonstrate how landscape-based simulation can be used to explore properties of estimators from convenience samples in relation to probability samples. We used simulation methods to model what is known about the habitat preferences of the wildlife population, the disease distribution, and the potential biases of the convenience-sample approach. Using chronic wasting disease in free-ranging deer (Odocoileus virginianus) as a simple illustration, we show that using probability sample designs with appropriate estimators provides unbiased surveillance parameter estimates but that the selection bias and coverage errors associated with convenience samples can lead to biased and misleading results. We also suggest practical alternatives to convenience samples that mix probability and convenience sampling. For example, a sample of land areas can be selected using a probability design that oversamples areas with larger animal populations, followed by harvesting of individual animals within sampled areas using a convenience sampling method.
Additional publication details
Sampling considerations for disease surveillance in wildlife populations