Commonly in environmental and ecological studies, species distribution data are recorded as presence or absence throughout a spatial domain of interest. Field based studies typically collect observations by sampling a subset of the spatial domain. We consider the effects of six different adaptive and two non-adaptive sampling designs and choice of three binary models on both predictions to unsampled locations and parameter estimation of the regression coefficients (species–environment relationships). Our simulation study is unique compared to others to date in that we virtually sample a true known spatial distribution of a nonindigenous plant species, Bromus inermis. The census of B. inermis provides a good example of a species distribution that is both sparsely (1.9 % prevalence) and patchily distributed. We find that modeling the spatial correlation using a random effect with an intrinsic Gaussian conditionally autoregressive prior distribution was equivalent or superior to Bayesian autologistic regression in terms of predicting to un-sampled areas when strip adaptive cluster sampling was used to survey B. inermis. However, inferences about the relationships between B. inermis presence and environmental predictors differed between the two spatial binary models. The strip adaptive cluster designs we investigate provided a significant advantage in terms of Markov chain Monte Carlo chain convergence when trying to model a sparsely distributed species across a large area. In general, there was little difference in the choice of neighborhood, although the adaptive king was preferred when transects were randomly placed throughout the spatial domain. Copyright © 2013 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.