On uncertain sightings and inference about extinction

Conserv Biol. 2014 Aug;28(4):1119-23. doi: 10.1111/cobi.12309. Epub 2014 Apr 29.


The extinction of many species can only be inferred from the record of sightings of individuals. Solow et al. (2012, Uncertain sightings and the extinction of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker. Conservation Biology 26:180-184) describe a Bayesian approach to such inference and apply it to a sighting record of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker (Campephilus principalis). A feature of this sighting record is that all uncertain sightings occurred after the most recent certain sighting. However, this appears to be an artifact. We extended this earlier work in 2 ways. First, we allowed for overlap in time between certain and uncertain sightings. Second, we considered 2 plausible statistical models of a sighting record. In one of these models, certain and uncertain sightings that are valid arise from the same process whereas in the other they arise from independent processes. We applied both models to the case of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker. The result from the first model did not favor extinction, whereas the result for the second model did. This underscores the importance, in applying tests for extinction, of understanding what could be called the natural history of the sighting record.

Keywords: Bayes factor; Campephilus principalis; Ivory-billed Woodpecker; extinción; extinction; factor Bayes; registro de avistamientos; sighting record.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Bayes Theorem
  • Birds / physiology*
  • Conservation of Natural Resources*
  • Extinction, Biological*
  • Models, Theoretical
  • Population Density