Temporal aggregation of migration counts can improve accuracy and precision of trends

Tara L. Crewe, Philip D. Taylor, Denis Lepage

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Temporal replicate counts are often aggregated to improve model fit by reducing zero-inflation and count variability, and in the case of migration counts collected hourly throughout a migration, allows one to ignore nonindependence. However, aggregation can represent a loss of potentially useful information on the hourly or seasonal distribution of counts, which might impact our ability to estimate reliable trends. We simulated 20-year hourly raptor migration count datasets with known rate of change to test the effect of aggregating hourly counts to daily or annual totals on our ability to recover known trend. We simulated data for three types of species, to test whether results varied with species abundance or migration strategy: a commonly detected species, e.g., Northern Harrier, Circus cyaneus; a rarely detected species, e.g., Peregrine Falcon, Falco peregrinus; and a species typically counted in large aggregations with overdispersed counts, e.g., Broad-winged Hawk, Buteo platypterus. We compared accuracy and precision of estimated trends across species and count types (hourly/daily/annual) using hierarchical models that assumed a Poisson, negative binomial (NB) or zero-inflated negative binomial (ZINB) count distribution. We found little benefit of modeling zero-inflation or of modeling the hourly distribution of migration counts. For the rare species, trends analyzed using daily totals and an NB or ZINB data distribution resulted in a higher probability of detecting an accurate and precise trend. In contrast, trends of the common and overdispersed species benefited from aggregation to annual totals, and for the overdispersed species in particular, trends estimating using annual totals were more precise, and resulted in lower probabilities of estimating a trend (1) in the wrong direction, or (2) with credible intervals that excluded the true trend, as compared with hourly and daily counts.

Original languageEnglish
Article number8
Number of pages19
JournalAvian Conservation and Ecology
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2016
Externally publishedYes


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