Analysis of population trends for farmland birds using generalized additive models

RM Fewster, Stephen Terrence Buckland, GM Siriwardena, SR Baillie, JD Wilson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

270 Citations (Scopus)


Knowledge of the direction, magnitude, and timing of changes in bird population abundance is essential to enable species of priority conservation concern to be identified, and reasons for the population changes to be understood. We give a brief review of previous techniques fur the analysis of large-scale survey data and present a new approach based on generalized additive models (GAMs). GAMs are used to model trend as a smooth, nonlinear function of time, and they provide a framework for testing the statistical significance of changes in abundance. In addition, the secund derivatives of the modeled trend curve may be used to identify key years in which the direction of the population trajectory was seen to change significantly. The inclusion of covariates into models for population abundance is also discussed and illustrated, and tests for the significance of covariate terms are given. We apply the methods to data from the Common Birds Census of the British Trust for Ornithology for 13 species of farmland birds. Seven of the species are shown to have experienced statistically significant declines since the mid-1960s, Two species exhibited a significant increase. The population trajectories of all but three species turned downward in the 1970s, although in most cases the 1980s brought either some recovery or a decrease in the rate of decline. The majority of populations have remained relatively stable in the 1990s. The results are comparable with those from other analysis techniques, although the new approach is shown to have advantages in generality and precision. We suggest extensions of the methods and make recommendations for the design of future surveys.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1970-1984
Number of pages15
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2000


  • bird census schemes
  • British birds
  • Change points
  • Common Birds Census
  • farmland birds
  • generalized additive models
  • log-linear Poisson regression
  • nonlinear trend
  • population trajectory
  • spatiotemporal models
  • trend analysis


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