A.J. van Strien
C.A.M. van Swaay
- Opportunistic citizen science data of animal species produce reliable estimates of distribution trends if analysed with occupancy models
- Journal of Applied Ecology
- Volume | Issue number
- 50 | 6
- Pages (from-to)
- Document type
- Faculty of Science (FNWI)
- Institute for Biodiversity and Ecosystem Dynamics (IBED)
Many publications documenting large-scale trends in the distribution of species make use of opportunistic citizen data, that is, observations of species collected without standardized field protocol and without explicit sampling design. It is a challenge to achieve reliable estimates of distribution trends from them, because opportunistic citizen science data may suffer from changes in field efforts over time (observation bias), from incomplete and selective recording by observers (reporting bias) and from geographical bias. These, in addition to detection bias, may lead to spurious trends.
We investigated whether occupancy models can correct for the observation, reporting and detection biases in opportunistic data. Occupancy models use detection/nondetection data and yield estimates of the percentage of occupied sites (occupancy) per year. These models take the imperfect detection of species into account. By correcting for detection bias, they may simultaneously correct for observation and reporting bias as well. We compared trends in occupancy (or distribution) of butterfly and dragonfly species derived from opportunistic data with those derived from standardized monitoring data. All data came from the same grid squares and years, in order to avoid any geographical bias in this comparison.
Distribution trends in opportunistic and monitoring data were well-matched. Strong trends observed in monitoring data were rarely missed in opportunistic data.
Synthesis and applications. Opportunistic data can be used for monitoring purposes if occupancy models are used for analysis. Occupancy models are able to control for the common biases encountered with opportunistic data, enabling species trends to be monitored for species groups and regions where it is not feasible to collect standardized data on a large scale. Opportunistic data may thus become an important source of information to track distribution trends in many groups of species.
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