Assessment of imperfect detection of blister rust in whitebark pine within the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem

Natural Resource Report 2017/1457




We examined data on white pine blister rust (blister rust) collected during the monitoring of whitebark pine trees in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem (from 2004-2015). Summaries of repeat observations performed by multiple independent observers are reviewed and discussed. These summaries show variability among observers and the potential for errors being made in blister rust status. Based on this assessment, we utilized occupancy models to analyze blister rust prevalence while explicitly accounting for imperfect detection. Available covariates were used to model both the probability of a tree being infected with blister rust and the probability of an observer detecting the infection. The fitted model provided strong evidence that the probability of blister rust infection increases as tree diameter increases and decreases as site elevation increases. Most importantly, we found evidence of heterogeneity in detection probabilities related to tree size and average slope of a transect. These results suggested that detecting the presence of blister rust was more difficult in larger trees. Also, there was evidence that blister rust was easier to detect on transects located on steeper slopes.

Our model accounted for potential impacts of observer experience on blister rust detection probabilities and also showed moderate variability among the different observers in their ability to detect blister rust. Based on these model results, we suggest that multiple observer sampling continue in future field seasons in order to allow blister rust prevalence estimates to be corrected for imperfect detection. We suggest that the multiple observer effort be spread out across many transects (instead of concentrated at a few each field season) while retaining the overall proportion of trees with multiple observers around 5-20%. Estimates of prevalence are confounded with detection unless it is explicitly accounted for in an analysis and we demonstrate how an occupancy model can be used to do account for this source of observation error.

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Publication type:
Publication Subtype:
Federal Government Series
Assessment of imperfect detection of blister rust in whitebark pine within the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem
Series title:
Natural Resource Report
Series number:
Year Published:
National Park Service
Publisher location:
Fort Collins, CO
Contributing office(s):
Northern Rocky Mountain Science Center
vi, 24 p.
United States
idaho, Montana, Utah, Wyoming