Upper Midwest Environmental Sciences Center
Estimating site occupancy rates for aquatic plants using spatial sub-sampling designs when detection probabilities are less than one
Nielson, R. M., B. R. Gray, L. L. McDonald, P. J. Heglund. 2011. Estimating site occupancy rates for aquatic plants using spatial sub-sampling designs when detection probabilities are less than one. Aquatic Botany 95: 221– 225.
Estimation of site occupancy rates when detection probabilities are <1 is well established in wildlife science. Data from multiple visits to a sample of sites are used to estimate detection probabilities and the proportion of sites occupied by focal species. In this article we describe how site occupancy methods can be applied to estimate occupancy rates of plants and other sessile organisms. We illustrate this approach and the pitfalls of ignoring incomplete detection using spatial data for 2 aquatic vascular plants collected under the Upper Mississippi River's Long Term Resource Monitoring Program (LTRMP). Site occupancy models considered include: a naïve model that ignores incomplete detection, a simple site
occupancy model assuming a constant occupancy rate and a constant probability of detection across sites, several models that allow site occupancy rates and probabilities of detection to vary with habitat characteristics, and mixture models that allow for unexplained variation in detection probabilities. We used information theoretic methods to rank competing models and bootstrapping to evaluate the goodness-of-fit of the final models. Results of our analysis confirm that ignoring incomplete detection can result in biased estimates of occupancy rates. Estimates of site occupancy rates for 2 aquatic plant species were 19–36% higher compared to naive estimates that ignored probabilities of detection <1. Simulations indicate that final models have little bias when 50 or more sites are sampled, and little gains in precision could be expected for sample sizes >300. We recommend applying site occupancy methods for monitoring presence of aquatic species.