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Bayesian Methods in Conservation Biology

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Bayesian statistical inference provides an alternate way to analyze data that is likely to be more appropriate to conservation biology problems than traditional statistical methods. I contrast Bayesian techniques with traditional hypothesis-testing techniques using examples applicable to conservation. I use a trend analysis of two hypothetical populations to illustrate how easy it is to understand Bayesian results, which are given in terms of probability. Bayesian trend analysis indicated that the two populations had very different chances of declining at biologically important rates. For example, the probability that the first population was declining faster than 5% per year was 0.00, compared to a probability of 0.86 for the second population. The Bayesian results appropriately identified which population was of greater conservation concern. The Bayesian results contrast with those obtained with traditional hypothesis testing. Hypothesis testing indicated that the first population, which the Bayesian analysis indicated had no chance of declining at >5% per year, was declining significantly because it was declining at a slow rate and the abundance estimates were precise. Despite the high probability that the second population was experiencing a serious decline, hypothesis testing failed to reject the null hypothesis of no decline because the abundance estimates were imprecise. Finally, I extended the trend analysis to illustrate Bayesian decision theory, which allows for choice between more than two decisions and allows explicit specification of the consequences of various errors. The Bayesian results again differed from the traditional results: the decision analysis led to the conclusion that the first population was declining slowly and the second population was declining rapidly.
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Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Office of Protected Resources, National Marine Fisheries Service, c/o National Marine Mammal Laboratory, 7600 Sand Point Way, N.E., Seattle, WA 98155, U.S.A.,

Publication date: October 1, 2000

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