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The utility of repeated presence data as a surrogate for counts: a case study using butterflies


Abundance data are widely used to monitor long-term population trends for management and conservation of species of interest. Programs that collect count data are often prohibitively expensive and time intensive, limiting the number of species that can be simultaneously monitored. Presence data, on the other hand, can often be collected in less time and for multiple species simultaneously. We investigate the relationship of counts to presence using 49 butterfly species across 4 sites over 9 years, and then compare trends produced from each index. We also employed simulated datasets to test the effect of reduced sampling on the relationship of counts to presence data and to investigate changes in each index's power to reveal population trends. Presence and counts were highly correlated for most species tested, and population trends based on each index were concordant for most species. The effect of reduced sampling was species-specific, but on a whole, sensitivity of both indices to detect population trends was reduced. Common and rare species, as well as those with a range of life-history and behavioral traits performed equally well. The relationship between presence and count data may break down in cases of very abundant and widespread species with extended flight seasons. Our results suggest that when used cautiously, presence data has the potential to be used as a surrogate for counts. Collection of presence data may be useful for multi-species monitoring or to reduce the duration of monitoring visits without fully sacrificing the ability to infer population trends. © 2013 Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht.

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