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Statistics for citizen science: extracting signals of change from noisy ecological data

Isaac, Nick J.B.; van Strien, Arco J.; August, Tom A.; de Zeeuw, Marnix P.; Roy, David B.. 2014 Statistics for citizen science: extracting signals of change from noisy ecological data. Methods in Ecology and Evolution, 5 (10). 1052-1060. 10.1111/2041-210X.12254

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Abstract/Summary

1. Policy-makers increasingly demand robust measures of biodiversity change over short time periods. Long-term monitoring schemes provide high-quality data, often on an annual basis, but are taxonomically and geographically restricted. By contrast, opportunistic biological records are relatively unstructured but vast in quantity. Recently, these data have been applied to increasingly elaborate science and policy questions, using a range of methods. At present we lack a firm understanding of which methods, if any, are capable of delivering unbiased trend estimates on policy-relevant timescales. 2. We identified a set of candidate methods that employ data filtering criteria and/or correction factors to deal with variation in recorder activity. We designed a computer simulation to compare the statistical properties of these methods under a suite of realistic data collection scenarios. We measured the Type I error rates of each method-scenario combination, as well as the power to detect genuine trends. 3. We found that simple methods produce biased trend estimates, and/or had low power. Most methods are robust to variation in sampling effort, but biases in spatial coverage, sampling effort per visit, and detectability, as well as turnover in community composition all induced some methods to fail. No method was wholly unaffected by all forms of variation in recorder activity, although some performed well enough to be useful. 4. We warn against the use of simple methods. Sophisticated methods that model the data collection process offer the greatest potential to estimate timely trends, notably Frescalo and Occupancy-Detection models. 5. The potential of these methods and the value of opportunistic data would be further enhanced by assessing the validity of model assumptions and by capturing small amounts of information about sampling intensity at the point of data collection.

Item Type: Publication - Article
Digital Object Identifier (DOI): 10.1111/2041-210X.12254
CEH Sections: Pywell
ISSN: 2041-210X
Additional Information. Not used in RCUK Gateway to Research.: Open Access paper - Official URL link provides full text
Additional Keywords: trends, biological records, distribution, biodiversity, occupancy modelling, simulations, Frescalo
NORA Subject Terms: Ecology and Environment
Zoology
Computer Science
Data and Information
Date made live: 23 Sep 2014 11:26 +0 (UTC)
URI: http://nora.nerc.ac.uk/id/eprint/508444

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