• Abundance heterogeneity;
  • Bayesian nonparametrics;
  • Empirical Bayes;
  • Model uncertainty;
  • Okaloosa darter;
  • Removal sampling

Summary In surveys of natural populations of animals, a sampling protocol is often spatially replicated to collect a representative sample of the population. In these surveys, differences in abundance of animals among sample locations may induce spatial heterogeneity in the counts associated with a particular sampling protocol. For some species, the sources of heterogeneity in abundance may be unknown or unmeasurable, leading one to specify the variation in abundance among sample locations stochastically. However, choosing a parametric model for the distribution of unmeasured heterogeneity is potentially subject to error and can have profound effects on predictions of abundance at unsampled locations. In this article, we develop an alternative approach wherein a Dirichlet process prior is assumed for the distribution of latent abundances. This approach allows for uncertainty in model specification and for natural clustering in the distribution of abundances in a data-adaptive way. We apply this approach in an analysis of counts based on removal samples of an endangered fish species, the Okaloosa darter. Results of our data analysis and simulation studies suggest that our implementation of the Dirichlet process prior has several attractive features not shared by conventional, fully parametric alternatives.