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Conditionally autoregressive models improve occupancy analyses of autocorrelated data: An example with environmental DNA

Chen, Wentao, Ficetola, Gentile Francesco
Molecular ecology resources 2019 v.19 no.1 pp. 163-175
DNA, autocorrelation, biodiversity, chronosequences, data collection, freshwater, lakes, landscapes, sediments, spatial data, statistical models, surveys
Site occupancy‐detection models (SODMs) are statistical models widely used for biodiversity surveys where imperfect detection of species occurs. For instance, SODMs are increasingly used to analyse environmental DNA (eDNA) data, taking into account the occurrence of both false‐positive and false‐negative errors. However, species occurrence data are often characterized by spatial and temporal autocorrelation, which might challenge the use of standard SODMs. Here we reviewed the literature of eDNA biodiversity surveys and found that most of studies do not take into account spatial or temporal autocorrelation. We then demonstrated how the analysis of data with spatial or temporal autocorrelation can be improved by using a conditionally autoregressive SODM, and show its application to environmental DNA data. We tested the autoregressive model on both simulated and real data sets, including chronosequences with different degrees of autocorrelation, and a spatial data set on a virtual landscape. Analyses of simulated data showed that autoregressive SODMs perform better than traditional SODMs in the estimation of key parameters such as true‐/false‐positive rates and show a better discrimination capacity (e.g., higher true skill statistics). The usefulness of autoregressive SODMs was particularly high in data sets with strong autocorrelation. When applied to real eDNA data sets (eDNA from lake sediment cores and freshwater), autoregressive SODM provided more precise estimation of true‐/false‐positive rates, resulting in more reasonable inference of occupancy states. Our results suggest that analyses of occurrence data, such as many applications of eDNA, can be largely improved by applying conditionally autoregressive specifications to SODMs.