Evaluating the power of surface attendance counts to detect long-term trends in populations of crevice-nesting auklets

H M Renner, J H Reynolds, Michelle Sims, M Renner

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10 Citations (SciVal)


Power analyses are essential when developing a long-term monitoring program for a target species whose observation is logistically challenging and expensive. These analyses can be complicated when the observations have a complex variance structure reflecting many factors. Crevice-nesting seabirds such as least and crested auklets Aethia pusilla and Aethia cristatella illustrate both this need and these challenges. They are ecosystem indicators for the Bering Sea, a system expected to undergo large changes. Unfortunately, they are difficult to monitor as colonies occur on remote, hard to access islands in the Aleutians and Bering Sea, and nests occur in crevices underground, preventing direct observation. Current monitoring consists of breeding-season counts of auklets standing on the surface of sample plots in the colony; logically, a substantial decline in nesting population guarantees an eventual substantial decline in surface attendants. Yet, it remains debatable whether these highly variable counts can be used to statistically detect biologically relevant declines in the attending population let alone the nesting population. Subsequently, existing monitoring programs vary widely in survey design, effort levels, and daily summary statistics. The power of different survey designs was assessed by simulating observations from a state model developed from 11 years of observations using mixed-effects models and zero-inflated Poisson-lognormal regression. The analyses illustrate the process required for any monitoring program whose observations are described inadequately by standard statistical models. State model development revealed survey design refinements that reduce sampling variation. For least auklets, current sampling efforts provided 90% power to detect annual declines of 11% ("Critically Endangered" using IUCN Red List criteria), 4.5% ("Endangered"), or 2.4% ("Vulnerable") in two, four, or six generations, respectively; crested auklets took a few years longer. Power was more sensitive to number of days than number of plots. Results appear robust across a range of bird densities, providing guidance for monitoring other colonies or crevice-nesting species with similar life history strategies. Research should now focus on illuminating the relationship between the attending and nesting populations. Given the frequency of complicated variance structures and zero counts in ecological data, the general statistical models used here should prove widely applicable.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)665-679
Number of pages15
JournalEnvironmental Monitoring and Assessment
Issue number1-4
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2011


  • aethia cristatella
  • seabirds
  • mixed-effects
  • statistical power
  • population trends
  • zero-inflated
  • Bering Sea
  • aethia pusilla
  • hierarchical models


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