Estimating Open Population Site Occupancy from Presence–Absence Data Lacking the Robust Design



Many animal monitoring studies seek to estimate the proportion of a study area occupied by a target population. The study area is divided into spatially distinct sites where the detected presence or absence of the population is recorded, and this is repeated in time for multiple seasons. However, when occupied sites are detected with probability p < 1, the lack of a detection does not imply lack of occupancy. MacKenzie et al. (2003, Ecology 84, 2200–2207) developed a multiseason model for estimating seasonal site occupancy (ψt) while accounting for unknown p. Their model performs well when observations are collected according to the robust design, where multiple sampling occasions occur during each season; the repeated sampling aids in the estimation p. However, their model does not perform as well when the robust design is lacking. In this paper, we propose an alternative likelihood model that yields improved seasonal estimates of p and Ψt in the absence of the robust design. We construct the marginal likelihood of the observed data by conditioning on, and summing out, the latent number of occupied sites during each season. A simulation study shows that in cases without the robust design, the proposed model estimates p with less bias than the MacKenzie et al. model and hence improves the estimates of Ψt. We apply both models to a data set consisting of repeated presence–absence observations of American robins (Turdus migratorius) with yearly survey periods. The two models are compared to a third estimator available when the repeated counts (from the same study) are considered, with the proposed model yielding estimates of Ψt closest to estimates from the point count model.