Site-selection bias and apparent population declines in long-term studies

Auriel M.V. Fournier, Easton R. White, Stephen B. Heard

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Detecting population declines is a critical task for conservation biology. Logistical difficulties and the spatiotemporal variability of populations make estimation of population declines difficult. For statistical reasons, estimates of population decline may be biased when study sites are chosen based on abundance of the focal species. In this situation, apparent population declines are likely to be detected even if there is no decline. This site-selection bias is mentioned in the literature but is not well known. We used simulations and real population data to examine the effects of site-selection biases on inferences about population trends. We used a left-censoring method to detect population-size patterns consistent with site-selection bias. The site-selection bias is an important consideration for conservation biologists, and we offer suggestions for minimizing or mitigating it in study design and analysis. Article impact statement: Estimates of population declines are biased if studies begin in large populations, and time-series data show a signature of such an effect.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1370-1379
Number of pages10
JournalConservation Biology
Issue number6
StateAccepted/In press - Jun 18 2019
Externally publishedYes


  • abundance
  • abundancia
  • dinámica poblacional
  • population dynamics
  • selección de sitio
  • site selection

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Ecology
  • Nature and Landscape Conservation

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