Species occupancy estimation and imperfect detection: shall surveys continue after the first detection?
Species occupancy, the proportion of sites occupied by a species, is a state variable of interest in ecology. One challenge in its estimation is that detection is often imperfect in wildlife surveys. As a consequence, occupancy models that explicitly describe the observation process are becoming widely used in the discipline. These models require data that are informative about species detectability. Such information is often obtained by conducting repeat surveys to sampling sites. One strategy is to survey each site a predefined number of times, regardless of whether the species is detected. Alternatively, one can stop surveying a site once the species is detected and reallocate the effort saved to surveying new sites. In this paper we evaluate the merits of these two general design strategies under a range of realistic conditions. We conclude that continuing surveys after detection is beneficial unless the cumulative probability of detection at occupied sites is close to one, and that the benefits are greater when the sample size is small. Since detectability and sample size tend to be small in ecological applications, our recommendation is to follow a strategy where at least some of the sites continue to be sampled after first detection.
KeywordsDetectability Imperfect detection Occupancy Removal design Survey design Zero-inflated binomial
This work was supported by the Australian Research Council (ARC) Centre of Excellence for Environmental Decisions. The authors thank Byron Morgan for comments on an earlier version of the manuscript.
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