DOI: 10.1111/1365-2664.14547 ISSN: 0021-8901

Accounting for spatiotemporal sampling variation in joint species distribution models

Joshua S. North, Erin M. Schliep, Gretchen J. A. Hansen, Holly Kundel, Christopher A. Custer, Paul McLaughlin, Tyler Wagner
  • Ecology


Estimating relative abundance is critical for informing conservation and management efforts and for making inferences about the effects of environmental change on populations. Freshwater fisheries span large geographic regions, occupy diverse habitats and consist of varying species assemblages. Monitoring schemes used to sample these diverse populations often result in populations being sampled at different times and under different environmental conditions. Varying sampling conditions can bias estimates of abundance when compared across time, location and species, and properly accounting for these biases is critical for making inferences.

We develop a joint species distribution model (JSDM) that accounts for varying sampling conditions due to the environment and time of sampling when estimating relative abundance. The novelty of our JSDM is that we explicitly model sampling effort as the product of known quantities based on time and gear type and an unknown functional relationship to capture seasonal variation in species life history.

We use the model to study relative abundance of six freshwater fish species across the state of Minnesota, USA. Our model enables estimates of relative abundance to be compared both within and across species and lakes, and captures the inconsistent sampling present in the data. We discuss how gear type, water temperature and day of the year impact catchability for each species at the lake level and throughout a year. We compare our estimates of relative abundance to those obtained from a model that assumes constant catchability to highlight important differences within and across lakes and species.

Synthesis and applications: Our method illustrates that assumptions relating indices of abundance to observed catch data can greatly impact model inferences derived from JSDMs. Specifically, not accounting for varying sampling conditions can bias inference of relative abundance, restricting our ability to detect responses to management interventions and environmental change. While our focus is on freshwater fisheries, this model architecture can be adopted to other systems where catchability may vary as a function of space, time and species.

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