Statistical analyses to support guidelines for marine avian sampling. Final report

NOAA Technical Memorandum NOS NCCOS 158
By: , and 



Interest in development of offshore renewable energy facilities has led to a need for high-quality, statistically robust information on marine wildlife distributions. A practical approach is described to estimate the amount of sampling effort required to have sufficient statistical power to identify species-specific “hotspots” and “coldspots” of marine bird abundance and occurrence in an offshore environment divided into discrete spatial units (e.g., lease blocks), where “hotspots” and “coldspots” are defined relative to a reference (e.g., regional) mean abundance and/or occurrence probability for each species of interest. For example, a location with average abundance or occurrence that is three times larger the mean (3x effect size) could be defined as a “hotspot,” and a location that is three times smaller than the mean (1/3x effect size) as a “coldspot.” The choice of the effect size used to define hot and coldspots will generally depend on a combination of ecological and regulatory considerations. A method is also developed for testing the statistical significance of possible hotspots and coldspots. Both methods are illustrated with historical seabird survey data from the USGS Avian Compendium Database.

Our approach consists of five main components:

1. A review of the primary scientific literature on statistical modeling of animal group size and avian count data to develop a candidate set of statistical distributions that have been used or may be useful to model seabird counts.

2. Statistical power curves for one-sample, one-tailed Monte Carlo significance tests of differences of observed small-sample means from a specified reference distribution. These curves show the power to detect "hotspots" or "coldspots" of occurrence and abundance at a range of effect sizes, given assumptions which we discuss.

3. A model selection procedure, based on maximum likelihood fits of models in the candidate set, to determine an appropriate statistical distribution to describe counts of a given species in a particular region and season.

4. Using a large database of historical at-sea seabird survey data, we applied this technique to identify appropriate statistical distributions for modeling a variety of species, allowing the distribution to vary by season. For each species and season, we used the selected distribution to calculate and map retrospective statistical power to detect hotspots and coldspots, and map pvalues from Monte Carlo significance tests of hotspots and coldspots, in discrete lease blocks designated by the U.S. Department of Interior, Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM).

5. Because our definition of hotspots and coldspots does not explicitly include variability over time, we examine the relationship between the temporal scale of sampling and the proportion of variance captured in time series of key environmental correlates of marine bird abundance, as well as available marine bird abundance time series, and use these analyses to develop recommendations for the temporal distribution of sampling to adequately represent both shortterm and long-term variability.

We conclude by presenting a schematic “decision tree” showing how this power analysis approach would fit in a general framework for avian survey design, and discuss implications of model assumptions and results. We discuss avenues for future development of this work, and recommendations for practical implementation in the context of siting and wildlife assessment for offshore renewable energy development projects.

Additional publication details

Publication type Report
Publication Subtype Federal Government Series
Title Statistical analyses to support guidelines for marine avian sampling. Final report
Series title NOAA Technical Memorandum
Series number NOS NCCOS 158
Year Published 2012
Language English
Publisher National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration
Publisher location Silver Spring, MD
Contributing office(s) Patuxent Wildlife Research Center
Description xiv, 77 p.