Sampling designs matching species biology produce accurate and affordable abundance indices

Grant Harris, Sean Farley, Gareth J. Russell, Matthew J. Butler, Jeff Selinger

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations


Wildlife biologists often use grid-based designs to sample animals and generate abundance estimates. Although sampling in grids is theoretically sound, in application, the method can be logistically difficult and expensive when sampling elusive species inhabiting extensive areas. These factors make it challenging to sample animals and meet the statistical assumption of all individuals having an equal probability of capture. Violating this assumption biases results. Does an alternative exist? Perhaps by sampling only where resources attract animals (i.e., targeted sampling), it would provide accurate abundance estimates more efficiently and affordably. However, biases from this approach would also arise if individuals have an unequal probability of capture, especially if some failed to visit the sampling area. Since most biological programs are resource limited, and acquiring abundance data drives many conservation and management applications, it becomes imperative to identify economical and informative sampling designs. Therefore, we evaluated abundance estimates generated from grid and targeted sampling designs using simulations based on geographic positioning system(GPS) data from42 Alaskan brown bears (Ursus arctos).Migratory salmon drew brown bears fromthe wider landscape, concentrating them at anadromous streams. This provided a scenario for testing the targeted approach. Grid and targeted sampling varied by trap amount, location (traps placed randomly, systematically or by expert opinion), and traps stationary or moved between capture sessions. We began by identifying when to sample, and if bears had equal probability of capture. We compared abundance estimates against seven criteria: bias, precision, accuracy, effort, plus encounter rates, and probabilities of capture and recapture. One grid (49 km2 cells) and one targeted configuration provided the most accurate results. Both placed traps by expert opinion and moved traps between capture sessions, which raised capture probabilities. The grid design was least biased (-10.5%), but imprecise (CV 21.2%), and used most effort (16,100 trap-nights). The targeted configuration was more biased (-17.3%), but most precise (CV 12.3%), with least effort (7,000 trap-nights). Targeted sampling generated encounter rates four times higher, and capture and recapture probabilities 11% and 60% higher than grid sampling, in a sampling frame 88% smaller. Bears had unequal probability of capture with both sampling designs, partly because some bears never had traps available to sample them. Hence, grid and targeted sampling generated abundance indices, not estimates. Overall, targeted sampling provided the most accurate and affordable design to index abundance. Targeted sampling may offer an alternative method to index the abundance of other species inhabiting expansive and inaccessible landscapes elsewhere, provided their attraction to resource concentrations.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number227
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2013

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Neuroscience
  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology
  • General Agricultural and Biological Sciences


  • Abundance
  • Brown bear
  • Capture heterogeneity
  • Capture rate
  • Grid sampling
  • Grizzly bear
  • MARK
  • Population
  • Sampling
  • Ursus arctos


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