Measuring abundance [book review]

This 2020 book, Measuring Abundance:  Methods for the Estimation of Population Size and Species Richness was written by Graham Upton, retired professor of applied statistics, for the Data in the Wild series published by Pelagic Publishing, a publishing company based in Exeter.

“Measuring the abundance of individuals and the diversity of species are core components of most ecological research projects and conservation monitoring. This book brings together in one place, for the first time, the methods used to estimate the abundance of individuals in nature.”

Its purpose is to provide a collection of statistical methods for measuring animal abundance or lack thereof. There are four parts: a primer on statistical methods, going no further than maximum likelihood estimation and bootstrap. The term Bayesian only occurs once, in connection with the (a-Bayesian) BIC. (I first spotted a second entry, until I realised this was not a typo and the example truly was about Bawean warty pigs!) The second part is about stationary (or static) individuals, such as trees, and it mostly exposes different recognised ways of sampling, with a focus on minimising the surveyor’s effort. Examples include forestry sampling (with a chainsaw method!) and underwater sampling. There is very little statistics involved in this part apart from the rare appearance of a MLE with an asymptotic confidence interval. There is also very little about misspecified models, except for the occasional warning that the estimates may prove completely wrong. The third part is about mobile individuals, with capture-recapture methods receiving the lion’s share (!). No lion was actually involved in the studies used as examples (but there were grizzly bears from Yellowstone and Banff National Parks). Given the huge variety of capture-recapture models, very little input is found within the book as the practical aspects are delegated to R software like the RMark and mra packages. Very little is written on using covariates or spatial features in such models, mostly dedicated to printed output from R packages with AIC as the sole standard for comparing models. I did not know of distance methods (Chapter 8), which are less invasive counting methods. They however seem to rely on a particular model of missing on individuals as the distance increases. The last section is about estimating the number of species. With again a model assumption that may prove wrong. With the inclusion of diversity measures,

The contents of the book are really down to earth and intended for field data gatherers. For instance, “drive slowly and steadily at 20 mph with headlights and hazard lights on ” (p.91) or “Before starting to record, allow fish time to acclimatize to the presence of divers” (p.91). It is unclear to me how useful the book would prove to be for general statisticians, apart from revealing the huge diversity of methods actually employed in the field. To either build upon these or expose students to their reassessment. More advanced books are McCrea and Morgan (2014), Buckland et al. (2016) and the most recent Seber and Schofield (2019).

[Disclaimer about potential self-plagiarism: this post or an edited version will eventually appear in my Book Review section in CHANCE.]

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