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Keywords:

  • Bayesian inference;
  • California;
  • decision analysis;
  • giant gartersnake;
  • occurrence;
  • survey design;
  • Thamnophis gigas;
  • uncertainty

Abstract

Transparency in resource management decisions requires a proper accounting of uncertainty at multiple stages of the decision-making process. As information becomes available, periodic review and updating of resource management protocols reduces uncertainty and improves management decisions. One of the most basic steps to mitigating anthropogenic effects on populations is determining if a population of a species occurs in an area that will be affected by human activity. Species are rarely detected with certainty, however, and falsely declaring a species absent can cause improper conservation decisions or even extirpation of populations. We propose a method to design survey protocols for imperfectly detected species that accounts for multiple sources of uncertainty in the detection process, is capable of quantitatively incorporating expert opinion into the decision-making process, allows periodic updates to the protocol, and permits resource managers to weigh the severity of consequences if the species is falsely declared absent. We developed our method using the giant gartersnake (Thamnophis gigas), a threatened species precinctive to the Central Valley of California, as a case study. Survey date was negatively related to the probability of detecting the giant gartersnake, and water temperature was positively related to the probability of detecting the giant gartersnake at a sampled location. Reporting sampling effort, timing and duration of surveys, and water temperatures would allow resource managers to evaluate the probability that the giant gartersnake occurs at sampled sites where it is not detected. This information would also allow periodic updates and quantitative evaluation of changes to the giant gartersnake survey protocol. Because it naturally allows multiple sources of information and is predicated upon the idea of updating information, Bayesian analysis is well-suited to solving the problem of developing efficient sampling protocols for species of conservation concern. © 2011 The Wildlife Society.