Inference methods for spatial variation in species richness and community composition when not all species are detected

  • Nichols J
  • Boulinier T
  • Hines J
 et al. 
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Inferences about spatial variation in species richness and community composition are important both to ecological hypotheses about the structure and function of communities and to community-level conservation and management. Few sampling programs for animal communities provide censuses, and usually some species in surveyed areas are not detected. Thus, counts of species detected underestimate the number of species present. We present estimators useful for drawing inferences about comparative species richness and composition between different sampling locations when not all species are detected in sampling efforts. Based on capture-recapture models using the robust design, our methods estimate relative species richness, proportion of species in one location that are also found in another, and number of species found in one location but not in another. The methods use data on the presence or absence of each species at different sampling occasions (or locations) to estimate the number of species not detected at any occasions (or locations). This approach permits estimation of the number of species in the sampled community and in subsets of the community useful for estimating the fraction of species shared by two communities. We provide an illustration of our estimation methods by comparing bird species richness and composition in two locations sampled by routes of the North American Breeding Bird Survey. In this example analysis, the two locations (and associated bird communities) represented different levels of urbanization. Estimates of relative richness, proportion of shared species, and number of species present on one route but not the other indicated that the route with the smaller fraction of urban area had greater richness and a larger number of species that were not found on the more urban route than vice versa. We developed a software package, COMDYN, for computing estimates based on these methods. Because these estimation methods explicitly deal with sampling in which not all species are detected, we recommend their use for addressing questions about species richness and community composition.

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  • J.D. Nichols

  • T. Boulinier

  • J.E. Hines

  • K.H. Pollock

  • J.R. Sauer

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