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Estimating trend precision and power to detect trends across grouped count data

Gray, B. R., and Burlew, M., 2007, Estimating trend precision and power to detect trends across grouped count data: Ecology, v. 88, p. 2364-2372.


Ecologists commonly use grouped or clustered count data to estimate temporal trends in counts, abundance indices, or abundance. For example, the U.S. Breeding Bird Survey data represent multiple counts of birds from within each of multiple, spatially defined routes. Despite a reliance on grouped counts, analytical methods for prospectively estimating precision of trend estimates or statistical power to detect trends that explicitly acknowledge the characteristics of grouped count data are undescribed. These characteristics include the fact that the sampling variance is an increasing function of the mean, and that sampling and group-level variance estimates are generally estimated on different scales (the sampling and log scales, respectively). We address these issues for repeated sampling of a single population using an analytical approach that has the flavor of a generalized linear mixed model, specifically that of a negative binomial-distributed count variable with random group effects. The count mean, including grand intercept, trend, and random group effects, is modeled linearly on the log scale, while sampling variance of the mean is estimated on the log scale via the delta method. Results compared favorably with those derived using Monte Carlo simulations. For example, at trend = 5% per temporal unit, differences in standard errors and in power were modest relative to those estimated by simulation (|11|% and |16|%, respectively), with relative differences among power estimates decreasing to |7|% when power estimated by simulations was 0.50. Similar findings were obtained using data from nine surveys of fingernail clams in the Mississippi River. The proposed method is suggested (1) where simulations are not practical and relative precision or power is desired, or (2) when multiple precision or power calculations are required and where the accuracy of a fraction of those calculations will be confirmed using simulations.

Keywords: count data; fingernail clams; hierarchical models; negative binomial distribution; power analysis; precision; trend detection

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