In Defense of Indices: The Case of Bird Surveys



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    1. United States Geological Survey, Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center, 204 Hodson Hall, 1980 Folwell Avenue, Saint Paul, MN 55108, USA
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Abstract: Indices to population size have come under increasing criticism in recent years, on the grounds that indices might not faithfully represent the entire population. Most criticisms involve surveys of birds, particularly those based on point counts, which is my focus here. A variety of quantitative methods have been developed to reduce the bias of point counts, such as distance sampling, multiple-observer surveys, and time-of-detection methods. I argue that these developments are valuable, in that they enhance understanding of the detection process, but that their practical application may well be limited, likely to intensive studies focusing on a small number of species. These quantitative methods are not generally applicable to extensive, multiple-species surveys. Although criticism of the thoughtless use of indices is welcome, their wholesale rejection is not.