One of our greatest challenges as researchers is predicting impacts of land use on biota, and predicting the impact of livestock grazing on birds is no exception. Insufficient data and poor survey design often yield results that are not statistically significant or that are difficult to interpret because researchers cannot disentangle the effects of grazing from other disturbances. This has resulted in few publications on the impact of grazing on birds alone. Ecologists with extensive experience in bird ecology in grazed landscapes could inform an analysis when time and monetary constraints limit the amount of data that can be collected. Using responses from 20 well-recognized ecologists throughout Australia, we captured this expert knowledge and incorporated it into a statistical model using Bayesian methods. Although relatively new to ecology, Bayesian methods allow straightforward probability statements to be made about specific models or scenarios and the integration of different types of information, including scientific judgment, while formally accommodating and incorporating the uncertainty in the information provided. Data on bird density were collected across three broad levels of grazing (no/low, moderate, and high) typical of subtropical Australia. These field data were used in conjunction with expert data to produce estimates of species persistence under grazing. The addition of expert data through priors in our model strengthened results under at least one grazing level for all but one bird species examined. When experts were in agreement credible intervals were tightened substantially, whereas, when experts were in disagreement, results were similar to those evaluated in the absence of expert information. In fields where there is extensive expert knowledge, yet little published data, the use of expert information as priors for ecological models is a cost-effective way of making more confident predictions about the effect of management on biodiversity.
Ecological Applications – Ecological Society of America
Published: Feb 1, 2005
Keywords: elicitation ; excess zeros ; livestock grazing ; Markov Chain Monte Carlo ; mixture model ; multiple experts ; two-component model ; WinBUGS ; woodland bird conservation ; zero-inflation
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