The use of counts of unmarked migrating animals to monitor long term population trends assumes independence of daily counts and a constant rate of detection. However, migratory stopovers often last days or weeks, violating the assumption of count independence. Further, a systematic change in stopover duration will result in a change in the probability of detecting individuals once, but also in the probability of detecting individuals on more than one sampling occasion. We tested how variation in stopover duration influenced accuracy and precision of population trends by simulating migration count data with known constant rate of population change and by allowing daily probability of survival (an index of stopover duration) to remain constant, or to vary randomly, cyclically, or increase linearly over time by various levels. Using simulated datasets with a systematic increase in stopover duration, we also tested whether any resulting bias in population trend could be reduced by modeling the underlying source of variation in detection, or by subsampling data to every three or five days to reduce the incidence of recounting. Mean bias in population trend did not differ significantly from zero when stopover duration remained constant or varied randomly over time, but bias and the detection of false trends increased significantly with a systematic increase in stopover duration. Importantly, an increase in stopover duration over time resulted in a compounding effect on counts due to the increased probability of detection and of recounting on subsequent sampling occasions. Under this scenario, bias in population trend could not be modeled using a covariate for stopover duration alone. Rather, to improve inference drawn about long term population change using counts of unmarked migrants, analyses must include a covariate for stopover duration, as well as incorporate sampling modifications (e.g., subsampling) to reduce the probability that individuals will be detected on more than one occasion.
Crewe, T. L., Taylor, P. D., & Lepage, D. (2015). Modeling systematic change in stopover duration does not improve bias in trends estimated from migration counts. PLoS One, 10(6), 1-19. [e0130137]. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0130137