U.S. Department of Agriculture: Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service


Date of this Version



Environ Sci Pollut Res (2015) 22:2907–2915. DOI 10.1007/s11356-014-3567-3


U.S. government work.


Rarely is it possible to obtain absolute numbers in free-ranging populations and although various direct and indirect methods are used to estimate abundance, few are validated against populations of known size. In this paper, we apply grounding, calibration and verification methods, used to validate mathematical models, to methods of estimating relative abundance. To illustrate how this might be done, we consider and evaluate the widely applied passive tracking index (PTI) methodology. Using published data, we examine the rationality of PTI methodology, how conceptually animal activity and abundance are related and how alternative methods are subject to similar biases or produce similar abundance estimates and trends.We then attune the method against populations representing a range of densities likely to be encountered in the field. Finally, we compare PTI trends against a prediction that adjacent populations of the same species will have similar abundance values and trends in activity. We show that while PTI abundance estimates are subject to environmental and behavioural stochasticity peculiar to each species, the PTI method and associated variance estimate showed high probability of detection, high precision of abundance values and, generally, low variability between surveys, and suggest that the PTI method applied using this procedure and for these species provides a sensitive and credible index of abundance. This same or similar validation approach can and should be applied to alternative relative abundance methods in order to demonstrate their credibility and justify their use.

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