A hierarchical model for estimating the spatial distribution and abundance of animals detected by continuous-time recorders

By 17th March 2017April 19th, 2018Conservation Papers


Several spatial capture-recapture (SCR) models have been developed to estimate animal abundance by analyzing the detections of individuals in a spatial array of traps. Most of these models do not use the actual dates and times of detection, even though this information is readily available when using continuous-time recorders, such as microphones or motion-activated cameras. Instead most SCR models either partition the period of trap operation into a set of subjectively chosen discrete intervals and ignore multiple detections of the same individual within each interval, or they simply use the frequency of detections during the period of trap operation and ignore the observed times of detection. Both practices make inefficient use of potentially important information in the data.

Model and data analysis
We developed a hierarchical SCR model to estimate the spatial distribution and abundance of animals detected with continuous-time recorders. Our model includes two kinds of point processes: a spatial process to specify the distribution of latent activity centers of individuals within the region of sampling and a temporal process to specify temporal patterns in the detections of individuals. We illustrated this SCR model by analyzing spatial and temporal patterns evident in the camera-trap detections of tigers living in and around the Nagarahole Tiger Reserve in India. We also conducted a simulation study to examine the performance of our model when analyzing data sets of greater complexity than the tiger data.

Our approach provides three important benefits: First, it exploits all of the information in SCR data obtained using continuous-time recorders. Second, it is sufficiently versatile to allow the effects of both space use and behavior of animals to be specified as functions of covariates that vary over space and time. Third, it allows both the spatial distribution and abundance of individuals to be estimated, effectively providing a species distribution model, even in cases where spatial covariates of abundance are unknown or unavailable. We illustrated these benefits in the analysis of our data, which allowed us to quantify differences between nocturnal and diurnal activities of tigers and to estimate their spatial distribution and abundance across the study area. Our continuous-time SCR model allows an analyst to specify many of the ecological processes thought to be involved in the distribution, movement, and behavior of animals detected in a spatial trapping array of continuous-time recorders. We plan to extend this model to estimate the population dynamics of animals detected during multiple years of SCR surveys.

Dorazio RM, Karanth KU (2017) A hierarchical model for estimating the spatial distribution and abundance of animals detected by continuous-time recorders. PLoS ONE 12(5): e0176966