Improving precision and reducing bias in biological surveys: Estimating false-negative error rates

Andrew J. Tyre, Brigitte Tenhumberg, Scott A. Field, Darren Niejalke, Kirsten Parris, Hugh P. Possingham

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

484 Scopus citations


The use of presence/absence data in wildlife management and biological surveys is widespread. There is a growing interest in quantifying the sources of error associated with these data. We show that false-negative errors (failure to record a species when in fact it is present) can have a significant impact on statistical estimation of habitat models using simulated data. Then we introduce an extension of logistic modeling, the zero-inflated binomial (ZIB) model that permits the estimation of the rate of false-negative errors and the correction of estimates of the probability of occurrence for false-negative errors by using repeated visits to the same site. Our simulations show that even relatively low rates of false negatives bias statistical estimates of habitat effects. The method with three repeated visits eliminates the bias, but estimates are relatively imprecise. Six repeated visits improve precision of estimates to levels comparable to that achieved with conventional statistics in the absence of false-negative errors. In general, when error rates are ≤50% greater efficiency is gained by adding more sites, whereas when error rates are >50% it is better to increase the number of repeated visits. We highlight the flexibility of the method with three case studies, clearly demonstrating the effect of false-negative errors for a range of commonly used survey methods.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1790-1801
Number of pages12
JournalEcological Applications
Issue number6
StatePublished - Dec 2003


  • Biological surveys
  • False-negative errors
  • Habitat effects
  • Presence-absence data
  • Zero-inflated binomial (ZIB) model

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology


Dive into the research topics of 'Improving precision and reducing bias in biological surveys: Estimating false-negative error rates'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this