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Research article2017Peer reviewedOpen access

Exploiting opportunistic observations to estimate changes in seasonal site use: An example with wetland birds

Ruete, Alejandro; Part, Tomas; Berg, Ake; Knape, Jonas


Nonsystematically collected, a.k.a. opportunistic, species observations are accumulating at a high rate in biodiversity databases. Occupancy models have arisen as the main tool to reduce effects of limited knowledge about effort in analyses of opportunistic data. These models are generally using long closure periods (e.g., breeding season) for the estimation of probability of detection and occurrence. Here, we use the fact that multiple opportunistic observations in biodiversity databases may be available even within days (e.g., at popular birding localities) to reduce the closure period to 1day in order to estimate daily occupancies within the breeding season. We use a hierarchical dynamic occupancy model for daily visits to analyze opportunistic observations of 71 species from nine wetlands during 10years. Our model derives measures of seasonal site use within seasons from estimates of daily occupancy. Comparing results from our seasonal site use model to results from a traditional annual occupancy model (using a closure criterion of 2months or more) showed that our model provides more detailed biologically relevant information. For example, when the aim is to analyze occurrences of breeding species, an annual occupancy model will over-estimate site use of species with temporary occurrences (e.g., migrants passing by, single itinerary prospecting individuals) as even a single observation during the closure period will be viewed as an occupancy. Alternatively, our model produces estimates of the extent to which sites are actually used. Model validation based on simulated data confirmed that our model is robust to changes and variability in sampling effort and species detectability. We conclude that more information can be gained from opportunistic data with multiple replicates (e.g., several reports per day almost every day) by reducing the time window of the closure criterion to acquire estimates of occupancies within seasons.


citizen-science data; GBIF; migratory birds; nonsystematic observations; occupancy model; site use; species lists; Sweden; Swedish Species Gateway

Published in

Ecology and Evolution
2017, Volume: 7, number: 15, pages: 5632-5644
Publisher: WILEY