Estimating species relative abundances from museum records

Nicholas J. Gotelli, Douglas B. Booher, Mark C. Urban, Werner Ulrich, Andrew V. Suarez, David K. Skelly, David J. Russell, Rebecca J. Rowe, Matthew Rothendler, Nelson Rios, Sandra M. Rehan, George Ni, Corrie S. Moreau, Anne E. Magurran, Faith A.M. Jones, Gary R. Graves, Cristina Fiera, Ulrich Burkhardt, Richard B. Primack

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Dated, geo-referenced museum specimens are a rich data source for reconstructing species' distribution and abundance patterns. However, museum records are potentially biased towards over-representation of rare species, and it is unclear whether museum records can be used to estimate relative abundance in the field. We assembled 17 coupled field and museum datasets to quantitatively compare relative abundance estimates with the Dirichlet distribution. Collectively, these datasets comprise 73,039 museum records and 1,405,316 field observations of 2,240 species. Although museum records of rare species overestimated relative abundance by 1-fold to over 100-fold (median study = 9.0), the relative abundance of species estimated from museum occurrence records was strongly correlated with relative abundance estimated from standardized field surveys (r2 range of 0.10–0.91, median study = 0.43). These analyses provide a justification for estimating species relative abundance with carefully curated museum occurrence records, which may allow for the detection of temporal or spatial shifts in the rank ordering of common and rare species.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)431-443
Number of pages13
JournalMethods in Ecology and Evolution
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 2023


  • biodiversity
  • fishes
  • invertebrates
  • mammals
  • museum records
  • plants
  • relative abundance

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Ecological Modeling


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