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Sample-size considerations for a study of shorebird nest survival in the 1002 Area, Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, Alaska

June 22, 2020

Authorization of lease sales for oil development in the 1002 Area of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge has highlighted gaps in information about biological communities in the area. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which is planning a study to evaluate spatial variation in the nest survival of tundra-breeding shorebirds to identify hotspots with high nest survival, sought advice from the U.S. Geological Survey on how to predict which sampling designs might be successful in achieving the study goals. I used previously obtained data on nest survival from Alaska’s North Slope to develop a simulation study that explored the statistical consequences of various sampling designs in the context of expected ranges of values of biological parameters. Of all sampling parameters, the number of nests per plot had the strongest influence on the ability to detect hotspots, followed by number of years of monitoring and the age at which nests were found. The benefit of sampling 98 plots instead of 68 was relatively small. Ages of nests cannot be predicted a priori, so I developed a field reference chart to identify when further nest-searching would be useful for a given plot. This simulation study used the best available information, but values of biological parameters will become better defined following subsequent data collection in the 1002 Area. Data from upcoming field seasons could be used to refine this analysis and improve estimation of the expected results of the field study, thus maximizing the likelihood that data from the 1002 Area nest survival study will meet the monitoring goals.