Spatial models to account for variation in observer effort in bird atlases.

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Ecology and evolution, ISSN: 2045-7758, Vol: 7, Issue: 16, Page: 6582-6594

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Wilson, Andrew M.; Brauning, Daniel W.; Carey, Caitlin; Mulvihill, Robert S.
Agricultural and Biological Sciences; Environmental Science; conditional autoregressive models; bird atlas projects; observer effort; Pennsylvania; West Virginia; Environmental Monitoring; Environmental Studies; Ornithology
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To assess the importance of variation in observer effort between and within bird atlas projects and demonstrate the use of relatively simple conditional autoregressive (CAR) models for analyzing grid-based atlas data with varying effort. Pennsylvania and West Virginia, United States of America. We used varying proportions of randomly selected training data to assess whether variations in observer effort can be accounted for using CAR models and whether such models would still be useful for atlases with incomplete data. We then evaluated whether the application of these models influenced our assessment of distribution change between two atlas projects separated by twenty years (Pennsylvania), and tested our modeling methodology on a state bird atlas with incomplete coverage (West Virginia). Conditional Autoregressive models which included observer effort and landscape covariates were able to make robust predictions of species distributions in cases of sparse data coverage. Further, we found that CAR models without landscape covariates performed favorably. These models also account for variation in observer effort between atlas projects and can have a profound effect on the overall assessment of distribution change. Accounting for variation in observer effort in atlas projects is critically important. CAR models provide a useful modeling framework for accounting for variation in observer effort in bird atlas data because they are relatively simple to apply, and quick to run.