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Occupancy in dynamic systems: accounting for multiple scales and false positives using environmental DNA to inform monitoring


Smith, Matthew; Goldberg, Caren (2019), Occupancy in dynamic systems: accounting for multiple scales and false positives using environmental DNA to inform monitoring, Dryad, Dataset,


Occupancy is an important metric to understand current and future trends in populations that have declined globally. In addition, occupancy can be an efficient tool for conducting landscape-scale and long-term monitoring. A challenge for occupancy monitoring programs is to determine the appropriate spatial scale of analysis and to obtain precise occupancy estimates for elusive species. We used a multi-scale occupancy model to assess occupancy of Columbia spotted frogs in the Great Basin, USA, based on environmental DNA (eDNA) detections. We collected three replicate eDNA samples at 220 sites across the Great Basin. We estimated and modeled ecological factors that described watershed and site occupancy at multiple spatial scales simultaneously while accounting for imperfect detection. Additionally, we conducted visual and dipnet surveys at all sites and used our paired detections to estimate the probability of a false positive detection for our eDNA sampling. We applied the estimated false positive rate to our multi-scale occupancy dataset and assessed changes in model selection. We had higher naïve occupancy estimates for eDNA (0.37) than for traditional survey methods (0.20). We estimated our false positive detection rate per qPCR replicate at 0.023 (95% CI: 0.016-0.033). When the false positive rate was applied to the multi-scale dataset, we did not observe substantial changes in model selection or parameter estimates. Conservation and resource managers have an increasing need to understand species occupancy in highly variable landscapes where the spatial distribution of habitat changes significantly over time due to climate change and human impact. A multi-scale occupancy approach can be used to obtain regional occupancy estimates that can account for spatially dynamic differences in availability over time, especially when assessing potential declines. Additionally, this study demonstrates how eDNA can be used as an effective tool for improved occupancy estimates across broad geographic scales for long-term monitoring.