Two-species occupancy modelling accounting for species misidentification and non-detection

Thierry Chambert, Evan H.Campbell Grant, David A.W. Miller, James D. Nichols, Kevin P. Mulder, Adrianne B. Brand

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Scopus citations


In occupancy studies, species misidentification can lead to false-positive detections, which can cause severe estimator biases. Currently, all models that account for false-positive errors only consider omnibus sources of false detections and are limited to single-species occupancy. However, false detections for a given species often occur because of the misidentification with another, closely related species. To exploit this explicit source of false-positive detection error, we develop a two-species occupancy model that accounts for misidentifications between two species of interest. As with other false-positive models, identifiability is greatly improved by the availability of unambiguous detections at a subset of site x occasions. Here, we consider the case where some of the field observations can be confirmed using laboratory or other independent identification methods (“confirmatory data”). We performed three simulation studies to (1) assess the model's performance under various realistic scenarios, (2) investigate the influence of the proportion of confirmatory data on estimator accuracy and (3) compare the performance of this two-species model with that of the single-species false-positive model. The model shows good performance under all scenarios, even when only small proportions of detections are confirmed (e.g. 5%). It also clearly outperforms the single-species model. We illustrate application of this model using a 4-year dataset on two sympatric species of lungless salamanders: the US federally endangered Shenandoah salamander Plethodon shenandoah, and its presumed competitor, the red-backed salamander Plethodon cinereus. Occupancy of red-backed salamanders appeared very stable across the 4 years of study, whereas the Shenandoah salamander displayed substantial turnover in occupancy of forest habitats among years. Given the extent of species misidentification issues in occupancy studies, this modelling approach should help improve the reliability of estimates of species distribution, which is the goal of many studies and monitoring programmes. Further developments, to account for different forms of state uncertainty, can be readily undertaken under our general approach.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1468-1477
Number of pages10
JournalMethods in Ecology and Evolution
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 2018

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Ecological Modeling


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