Using interview surveys and multispecies occupancy models to inform vertebrate conservation

Rajeev Pillay, David A.W. Miller, R. Raghunath, Atul A. Joshi, Charudutt Mishra, A. J.T. Johnsingh, M. D. Madhusudan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations


Species distribution data are an essential biodiversity variable requiring robust monitoring to inform wildlife conservation. Yet, such data remain inherently sparse because of the logistical challenges of monitoring biodiversity across broad geographic extents. Surveys of people knowledgeable about the occurrence of wildlife provide an opportunity to evaluate species distributions and the ecology of wildlife communities across large spatial scales. We analyzed detection histories of 30 vertebrate species across the Western Ghats biodiversity hotspot in India, obtained from a large-scale interview survey of 2318 people who live and work in the forests of this region. We developed a multispecies occupancy model that simultaneously corrected for false-negative (non-detection) and false-positive (misidentification) errors that interview surveys can be prone to. Using this model, we integrated data across species in composite analyses of the responses of functional species groups (based on disturbance tolerance, diet, and body mass traits) to spatial variation in environmental variables, protection, and anthropogenic pressures. We observed a positive association between forest cover and the occurrence of species with low tolerance of human disturbance. Protected areas were associated with higher occurrence for species across different functional groups compared with unprotected lands. We also observed the occurrence of species with low disturbance tolerance, herbivores, and large-bodied species was negatively associated with developmental pressures, such as human settlements, energy production and mining, and demographic pressures, such as biological resource extraction. For the conservation of threatened vertebrates, our work underscores the importance of maintaining forest cover and reducing deforestation within and outside protected areas, respectively. In addition, mitigating a suite of pervasive human pressures is also crucial for wildlife conservation in one of the world's most densely populated biodiversity hotspots.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere13832
JournalConservation Biology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 2022

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

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


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