Reviving common standards in point-count surveys for broad inference across studies

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We revisit the common standards recommended by Ralph et al. (1993, 1995a) for conducting point-count surveys to assess the relative abundance of landbirds breeding in North America. The standards originated from discussions among ornithologists in 1991 and were developed so that point-count survey data could be broadly compared and jointly analyzed by national data centers with the goals of monitoring populations and managing habitat. Twenty years later, we revisit these standards because (1) they have not been universally followed and (2) new methods allow estimation of absolute abundance from point counts, but these methods generally require data beyond the original standards to account for imperfect detection. Lack of standardization and the complications it introduces for analysis become apparent from aggregated data. For example, only 3% of 196,000 point counts conducted during the period 1992-2011 across Alaska and Canada followed the standards recommended for the count period and count radius. Ten-minute, unlimited-count-radius surveys increased the number of birds detected by >300% over 3-minute, 50-m-radius surveys. This effect size, which could be eliminated by standardized sampling, was ≥10 times the published effect sizes of observers, time of day, and date of the surveys. We suggest that the recommendations by Ralph et al. (1995a) continue to form the common standards when conducting point counts. This protocol is inexpensive and easy to follow but still allows the surveys to be adjusted for detection probabilities. Investigators might optionally collect additional information so that they can analyze their data with more flexible forms of removal and time-of-detection models, distance sampling, multiple-observer methods, repeated counts, or combinations of these methods. Maintaining the common standards as a base protocol, even as these study-specific modifications are added, will maximize the value of point-count data, allowing compilation and analysis by regional and national data centers.

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Reviving common standards in point-count surveys for broad inference across studies
Series title Condor
DOI 10.1650/CONDOR-14-108.1
Volume 116
Issue 4
Year Published 2014
Language English
Publisher Cooper Ornithological Club
Publisher location Santa Clara, CA
Contributing office(s) Alaska Science Center Biology WTEB
Description 10 p.
First page 599
Last page 608
Online Only (Y/N) N
Additional Online Files (Y/N) N
Google Analytic Metrics Metrics page
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