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Estimating size and composition of biological communities by modeling the occurrence of species

June 16, 2010

We develop a model that uses repeated observations of a biological community to estimate the number and composition of species in the community. Estimators of community-level attributes are constructed from model-based estimators of occurrence of individual species that incorporate imperfect detection of individuals. Data from the North American Breeding Bird Survey are analyzed to illustrate the variety of ecologically important quantities that are easily constructed and estimated using our model-based estimators of species occurrence. In particular, we compute site-specific estimates of species richness that honor classical notions of species-area relationships. We suggest extensions of our model to estimate maps of occurrence of individual species and to compute inferences related to the temporal and spatial dynamics of biological communities.