Of power and despair in cetacean conservation : estimation and detection of trend in abundance with noisy and short time-series
Many conservation instruments rely on detecting and estimating a population decline in a target species to take action. Trend estimation is difficult because of small sample size and relatively large uncertainty in abundance/density estimates of many wild populations of animals. Focusing on cetaceans, we performed a prospective analysis to estimate power, type-I, sign (type-S) and magnitude (type-M) error rates of detecting a decline in short time-series of abundance estimates with different signal-to-noise ratio. We contrasted results from both unregularized (classical) and regularized approaches. The latter allows to incorporate prior information when estimating a trend. Power to detect a statistically significant estimates was in general lower than 80%, except for large declines. The unregularized approach (status quo) had inflated type-I error rates and gave biased (either over- or under-) estimates of a trend. The regularized approach with a weakly-informative prior offered the best trade-off in terms of bias, statistical power, type-I, type-S and type-M error rates and confidence interval coverage. To facilitate timely conservation decisions, we recommend to use the regularized approach with a weakly-informative prior in the detection and estimation of trend with short and noisy time-series of abundance estimates.