Model-based control of observer bias for the analysis of presence-only data in ecology

Publication Type:
Journal Article
PLoS ONE, 2013, 8 (11)
Issue Date:
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Presence-only data, where information is available concerning species presence but not species absence, are subject to bias due to observers being more likely to visit and record sightings at some locations than others (hereafter "observer bias"). In this paper, we describe and evaluate a model-based approach to accounting for observer bias directly - by modelling presence locations as a function of known observer bias variables (such as accessibility variables) in addition to environmental variables, then conditioning on a common level of bias to make predictions of species occurrence free of such observer bias. We implement this idea using point process models with a LASSO penalty, a new presence-only method related to maximum entropy modelling, that implicitly addresses the "pseudo-absence problem" of where to locate pseudo-absences (and how many). The proposed method of bias-correction is evaluated using systematically collected presence/absence data for 62 plant species endemic to the Blue Mountains near Sydney, Australia. It is shown that modelling and controlling for observer bias significantly improves the accuracy of predictions made using presence-only data, and usually improves predictions as compared to pseudo-absence or "inventory" methods of bias correction based on absences from non-target species. Future research will consider the potential for improving the proposed bias-correction approach by estimating the observer bias simultaneously across multiple species. © 2013 Warton et al.
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