The 'standardized search': An improved way to conduct bird surveys

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70 Citations (Scopus)


Abstract Bird surveys are among the most widely used biodiversity inventories and serve as the basis for an increasing proportion of pure and applied ecological research. It is rarely possible to conduct exhaustive censuses of all individuals present at a particular site, so stopping rules are routinely used to determine when sampling should finish. Most bird survey methods use (implicit) effort-based stopping rules, either fixed times, fixed sampling areas (quadrats) or both, to standardize samples of different sites. If between-site variation is high, however, a fixed sampling effort will generate samples of variable completeness with samples from smaller, less complex sites being more representative and complete than samples from larger, more complex sites. More importantly, quadrat-based methods shift the scope of the overall study from bird occurrence in sites to bird occurrence in quadrats within sites, diminishing the impact of the research given that results cannot be extrapolated to relevant biological and management scales. Here I advocate an alternative means of conducting bird surveys, whereby the entire site is sampled and a results-based stopping rule is used to ensure sample completeness is uniform across all sites. For example, a researcher may decide to continue sampling each site until two or fewer previously unencountered species are recorded in a 40-min period. Samples of different sites will vary in both area and duration but will all be equivalently accurate estimates of species richness. This approach allows the avifauna of entire sites (whether territories, woodland remnants or catchments) to be sampled and compared directly, generating results and implications at the appropriate scale. In addition to yielding reliable measures of species richness, data collected this way can be used to calculate estimates of sample completeness and species incidence, two valuable metrics for ecological studies. This paper includes detailed workedexamples of how to conduct a 'standardized search' and calculate sample completeness and species incidence estimates. I encourage further research on bird survey methods, and suggest that most current methods are insufficient, inconsistent and unreliable.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)515-525
Number of pages11
JournalAustral Ecology: a journal of ecology in the Southern Hemisphere
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 2003


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