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Keywords:

  • Biodiversity;
  • community modeling;
  • hierarchical modeling;
  • imperfect detection;
  • occurrence modeling;
  • species richness

Abstract

Recent methodological advances permit the estimation of species richness and occurrences for rare species by linking species-level occurrence models at the community level. The value of such methods is underscored by the ability to examine the influence of landscape heterogeneity on species assemblages at large spatial scales. A salient advantage of community-level approaches is that parameter estimates for data-poor species are more precise as the estimation process “borrows” from data-rich species. However, this analytical benefit raises a question about the degree to which inferences are dependent on the implicit assumption of relatedness among species. Here, we assess the sensitivity of community/group-level metrics, and individual-level species inferences given various classification schemes for grouping species assemblages using multispecies occurrence models. We explore the implications of these groupings on parameter estimates for avian communities in two ecosystems: tropical forests in Puerto Rico and temperate forests in northeastern United States. We report on the classification performance and extent of variability in occurrence probabilities and species richness estimates that can be observed depending on the classification scheme used. We found estimates of species richness to be most precise and to have the best predictive performance when all of the data were grouped at a single community level. Community/group-level parameters appear to be heavily influenced by the grouping criteria, but were not driven strictly by total number of detections for species. We found different grouping schemes can provide an opportunity to identify unique assemblage responses that would not have been found if all of the species were analyzed together. We suggest three guidelines: (1) classification schemes should be determined based on study objectives; (2) model selection should be used to quantitatively compare different classification approaches; and (3) sensitivity of results to different classification approaches should be assessed. These guidelines should help researchers apply hierarchical community models in the most effective manner.