All anole field biologists have been there, right? It’s the middle of the night, and you’re walking around the forest searching for sleeping lizards in the trees. You’re probably wearing a headlamp, so the bugs are flying around your face, and your eyes start to strain as you get sleepy and you’re entering hour three or four of the search. This searcher fatigue could lead to the kinds of unintentional bias that can interfere with our research. But there’s good news when it comes to anoles, as Amy Yackel Adams, a statistician with the USGS in Fort Collins, Colorado, reported on the last day of JMIH.
Dr. Yackel Adams works with a Rapid Response Team whose goal is to prevent the spread of the worst invasive species. When a report came in of a sighting of a brown tree snake on the island of Saipan (in the Northern Mariana Islands, western Pacific Ocean), the team of experienced herpers deployed to Saipan and began intensive nightly surveys to assess the possibility of a brown tree snake population there. Luckily, they didn’t find any of these snakes in the surveys, but they did log 20,000+ sightings of other vertebrates! These included emerald tree skinks, several species of geckos, a variety of small mammals, and the green anole (Anolis carolinensis). Dr. Yackel Adams saw an opportunity to use this rich dataset to statistically test for two types of bias that could occur in such surveys – searcher fatigue (both across the 4-hour nightly searches, and across the up-to-31 day deployment), and searcher bias in taxon detection.
The team of 29 searchers covered a total of 387 km of transects during the 31 days, and found a total of 5,800 sleeping green anoles during this time. (Wow!!) In terms of short-term searcher fatigue, there was a slight decrease in tree skink and mammal sightings as the night progresses, and gecko sightings were generally stable over the night, but far MORE green anoles were sighted in the later hours of the night. And over the long term, skinks and anoles were MORE likely to be detected the more nights a searcher worked, and there was no evidence of long-term searcher fatigue. So, that’s why my take-home message was “nobody gets tired of looking for anoles!”
There was, however, significant taxonomic bias among the searchers – for example, the skink-to-anole sighting ratios ranged from 0.86 to 9.5. Dr. Yackel Adams concluded that this type of bias could be a real problem for certain kinds of studies, and we should be aware that differences among sightings by our survey team members could be potentially problematic in statistical analyses.