• Distance sampling;
  • Encounter rate;
  • Line transect sampling;
  • Plot sampling;
  • Poststratification;
  • Quadrat sampling;
  • Strip sampling;
  • Systematic sampling;
  • Variance estimation

Summary In spatial surveys for estimating the density of objects in a survey region, systematic designs will generally yield lower variance than random designs. However, estimating the systematic variance is well known to be a difficult problem. Existing methods tend to overestimate the variance, so although the variance is genuinely reduced, it is over-reported, and the gain from the more efficient design is lost. The current approaches to estimating a systematic variance for spatial surveys are to approximate the systematic design by a random design, or approximate it by a stratified design. Previous work has shown that approximation by a random design can perform very poorly, while approximation by a stratified design is an improvement but can still be severely biased in some situations. We develop a new estimator based on modeling the encounter process over space. The new “striplet” estimator has negligible bias and excellent precision in a wide range of simulation scenarios, including strip-sampling, distance-sampling, and quadrat-sampling surveys, and including populations that are highly trended or have strong aggregation of objects. We apply the new estimator to survey data for the spotted hyena (Crocuta crocuta) in the Serengeti National Park, Tanzania, and find that the reported coefficient of variation for estimated density is 20% using approximation by a random design, 17% using approximation by a stratified design, and 11% using the new striplet estimator. This large reduction in reported variance is verified by simulation.