Accounting for imperfect detection of groups and individuals when estimating abundance

Ecology and Evolution
By: , and 



If animals are independently detected during surveys, many methods exist for estimating animal abundance despite detection probabilities <1. Common estimators include double-observer models, distance sampling models and combined double-observer and distance sampling models (known as mark-recapture-distance-sampling models; MRDS). When animals reside in groups, however, the assumption of independent detection is violated. In this case, the standard approach is to account for imperfect detection of groups, while assuming that individuals within groups are detected perfectly. However, this assumption is often unsupported. We introduce an abundance estimator for grouped animals when detection of groups is imperfect and group size may be under-counted, but not over-counted. The estimator combines an MRDS model with an N-mixture model to account for imperfect detection of individuals. The new MRDS-Nmix model requires the same data as an MRDS model (independent detection histories, an estimate of distance to transect, and an estimate of group size), plus a second estimate of group size provided by the second observer. We extend the model to situations in which detection of individuals within groups declines with distance. We simulated 12 data sets and used Bayesian methods to compare the performance of the new MRDS-Nmix model to an MRDS model. Abundance estimates generated by the MRDS-Nmix model exhibited minimal bias and nominal coverage levels. In contrast, MRDS abundance estimates were biased low and exhibited poor coverage. Many species of conservation interest reside in groups and could benefit from an estimator that better accounts for imperfect detection. Furthermore, the ability to relax the assumption of perfect detection of individuals within detected groups may allow surveyors to re-allocate resources toward detection of new groups instead of extensive surveys of known groups. We believe the proposed estimator is feasible because the only additional field data required are a second estimate of group size.

Additional publication details

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Accounting for imperfect detection of groups and individuals when estimating abundance
Series title Ecology and Evolution
DOI 10.1002/ece3.3284
Volume 7
Issue 18
Year Published 2017
Language English
Publisher Wiley
Contributing office(s) Coop Res Unit Seattle
Description 7 p.
First page 7304
Last page 7310