Interaction between transect design and animal distribution in distance sampling of deer

Wildlife Society Bulletin
By: , and 



We conducted a simulation study to evaluate the consequences of violating statistical assumptions of distance sampling (DS) on the bias and precision of population estimates of white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus). Distance sampling is a method for estimating the density of organisms using a distribution of observed distances to individuals. A key assumption of DS is that sampling transects are randomly located with respect to the population being sampled. Most DS transects used in National Parks follow roads and trails, which are not positioned randomly. We constructed spatially explicit simulations of surveys using 7 different types of deer spatial distributions and 3 survey designs. A significant interaction between survey type and deer distribution type explained most of the variation in population estimates across simulations and this interaction was also a significant predictor of the coefficient of variation (CV) of population estimates. Simulation results suggested that 1) non-road surveys were more robust to bias than were road surveys, 2) effectiveness of each of 3 survey types was dependent on the way deer were distributed across the landscape, and 3) non-road surveys produced unbiased estimates of populations affected by roads, whereas road surveys did not. The results of our study suggest that DS surveys using pre-existing roads and trails have potential biases resulting from study design, something that could be considered by land managers when constructing surveys.

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Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Interaction between transect design and animal distribution in distance sampling of deer
Series title Wildlife Society Bulletin
DOI 10.1002/wsb.1368
Volume 46
Issue 5
Year Published 2022
Language English
Publisher Wiley
Contributing office(s) Columbia Environmental Research Center
Description e1368, 13 p.
Country United States
State Maryland
Other Geospatial Catoctin Mountain Park
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