A better way to estimate population trends

Jean Yves Humbert, L. Scott Mills, Jon S. Horne, Brian Dennis

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

89 Scopus citations


Estimation of a population trend from a time series of abundance data is an important task in ecology, yet such estimation remains logistically and conceptually challenging in practice. First, the extent to which unequal intervals in the time series, due to missing observations or irregular sampling, compromise trend estimation is not well-known. Furthermore, the predominant trend estimation method (loglinear regression of abundance data against time) ignores the possibility of process noise, while an alternative method (the 'diffusion approximation') ignores observation error in the abundance data. State-space models that account for both process noise and observation error exist but have been little used. We study an adaptation of the exponential growth state-space (EGSS) model for use with missing data in the time series, and we compare its trend estimation to the status quo methods. The EGSS model provides superior estimates of trend across wide ranges of time series length and sources of variation. The performance of the EGSS model even with half of the counts in the time series missing implies that trend estimates may be improved by diverting effort away from annual monitoring and towards increasing time series length or improving precision of the abundance estimates for years that data are collected.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1940-1946
Number of pages7
Issue number12
StatePublished - Dec 2009


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