Estimating abundance in the presence of species uncertainty

Methods in Ecology and Evolution
Thierry Chambert; Blake R. Hossack; LeeAnn Fishback; Jon M. Davenport
By: , and 



1.N-mixture models have become a popular method for estimating abundance of free-ranging animals that are not marked or identified individually. These models have been used on count data for single species that can be identified with certainty. However, co-occurring species often look similar during one or more life stages, making it difficult to assign species for all recorded captures. This uncertainty creates problems for estimating species-specific abundance and it can often limit life stages to which we can make inference.

2.We present a new extension of N-mixture models that accounts for species uncertainty. In addition to estimating site-specific abundances and detection probabilities, this model allows estimating probability of correct assignment of species identity. We implement this hierarchical model in a Bayesian framework and provide all code for running the model in BUGS-language programs.

3.We present an application of the model on count data from two sympatric freshwater fishes, the brook stickleback (Culaea inconstans) and the ninespine stickleback (Pungitius pungitius), ad illustrate implementation of covariate effects (habitat characteristics). In addition, we used a simulation study to validate the model and illustrate potential sample size issues. We also compared, for both real and simulated data, estimates provided by our model to those obtained by a simple N-mixture model when captures of unknown species identification were discarded. In the latter case, abundance estimates appeared highly biased and very imprecise, while our new model provided unbiased estimates with higher precision.

4.This extension of the N-mixture model should be useful for a wide variety of studies and taxa, as species uncertainty is a common issue. It should notably help improve investigation of abundance and vital rate characteristics of organisms’ early life stages, which are sometimes more difficult to identify than adults.

Additional publication details

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Estimating abundance in the presence of species uncertainty
Series title Methods in Ecology and Evolution
DOI 10.1111/2041-210X.12570
Volume 7
Issue 9
Year Published 2016
Language English
Publisher John Wiley
Publisher location Hoboken, N.J.
Contributing office(s) Northern Rocky Mountain Science Center
Description 9 p.
First page 1041
Last page 1049
Online Only (Y/N) N
Additional Online Files (Y/N) N