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The University of Massachusetts Amherst

Multi‐species occupancy models: review, roadmap, and recommendations


Kadambari Devarajan

Toni Lyn Morelli

Simone Tenan

Publication Type:
Journal Article
Year of Publication:
Secondary Title:
0906-7590, 1600-0587


Recent technological and methodological advances have revolutionized wildlife monitoring. Although most biodiversity monitoring initiatives are geared towards focal species of conservation concern, researchers are increasingly studying entire communities, specifically the spatiotemporal drivers of community size and structure and interactions among species. This has resulted in the emergence of multi-species occupancy models (MSOMs) as a promising and efficient approach for the study of community ecology. Given the potential of MSOMs for conservation and management action, it is critical to know whether study design and model assumptions are consistent with inference objectives. This is especially true for studies that are designed for a focal species but can give insights about a community. Here, we review the recent literature on MSOMs, identify areas of improvement in the multi-species study workflow, and provide a reference model for best practices for focal species and community monitoring study design. We reviewed 92 studies published between 2009 and early 2018, spanning 27 countries and a variety of taxa. There is a consistent under-reporting of details that are central to determining the adequacy of designs for generating data that can be used to make inferences about community-level patterns of occupancy, including the spatial and temporal extent, types of detectors used, covariates considered, and choice of field methods and statistical tools. This reporting bias could consequently result in skewed estimates, affecting conservation actions and management plans. On the other hand, comprehensive reporting is likely to help researchers working on MSOMs assess the robustness of inferences, in addition to making strides in terms of reproducibility and reusability of data. We use our literature review to inform a roadmap with best practices for MSOM studies, from simulations to design considerations and reporting, for the collection of new data as well as those involving existing datasets.