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Assessing the performance of nonparametric estimators of species richness in meadows

González-Oreja, José Antonio, Garbisu, Carlos, Mendarte, Sorkunde, Ibarra, Ainhoa, Albizu, Isabel
Biodiversity and conservation 2010 v.19 no.5 pp. 1417-1436
cutting, environmental factors, grasses, grazing, humans, ice, meadows, models, mowing, soil parent materials, species diversity, Spain
To accurately measure the number of species in a biological community, a complete inventory should be performed, which is generally unfeasible; hopefully, estimators of species richness can help. Our main objectives were (i) to assess the performance of nonparametric estimators of plant species richness with real data from a small set of meadows located in the Basque campiña (northern Spain), and (ii) to apply the best estimator to a larger dataset to test the effects on plant species richness caused by environmental conditions and human practices. Two non-asymptotic and seven asymptotic accumulation functions were fitted to a randomized sample-based rarefaction curve computed with data from three well sampled meadows, and information theoretic methods were used to select the best fitting model; this was the Morgan-Mercer-Flodin, and its asymptote was taken as our best guess of true richness. Then, five nonparametric estimators were computed: ICE, Chao 2, Jackknife 1 and 2, and Bootstrap; MMRuns and MMMeans were also assessed. According to the criteria set for our performance assessment (i.e., bias, precision, and accuracy), the best estimator was Jackknife 1. Finally, Jackknife 1 was applied to assess the effects of terrain slope and soil parent material, and also fertilization, grazing, and mowing, on plant species richness from a larger dataset (20 meadows). Results suggested that grass cutting was causing a loss of richness close to 30%, as compared to unmowed meadows. It is concluded that the use of nonparametric estimators of species richness can improve the evaluation of biodiversity responses to human management practices.