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Sampling errors and variability in video transects for assessment of reef fish assemblage structure and diversity
Bruneel, S.; Ho, L.; Van Echelpoel, W.; Schoeters, A.; Raat, H.; Moens, T.; Bermúdez, R.; Luca, S.; Goethals, P. (2022). Sampling errors and variability in video transects for assessment of reef fish assemblage structure and diversity. PLoS One 17(7): e0271043.
In: PLoS One. Public Library of Science: San Francisco. ISSN 1932-6203; e-ISSN 1932-6203, more
Peer reviewed article  

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  • Bermúdez, R.
  • Luca, S., more
  • Goethals, P., more

    Video monitoring is a rapidly evolving tool in aquatic ecological research because of its non-destructive ability to assess fish assemblages. Nevertheless, methodological considerations of video monitoring techniques are often overlooked, especially in more complex sampling designs, causing inefficient data collection, processing, and interpretation. In this study, we discuss how video transect sampling designs could be assessed and how the inter-observer variability, design errors and sampling variability should be quantified and accounted for. The study took place in the coastal areas of the Galapagos archipelago and consisted of a hierarchical repeated-observations sampling design with multiple observers. Although observer bias was negligible for the assessment of fish assemblage structure, diversity and counts of individual species, sampling variability caused by simple counting/detection errors, observer effects and instantaneous fish displacement was often important. Especially for the counts of individual species, sampling variability most often exceeded the variability of the transects and sites. An extensive part of the variability in the fish assemblage structure was explained by the different transects (13%), suggesting that a sufficiently high number of transects is required to account for the within-location variability. Longer transect lengths allowed a better representation of the fish assemblages as sampling variability decreased by 33% if transect length was increased from 10 to 50 meters. However, to increase precision, including more repeats was typically more efficient than using longer transect lengths. The results confirm the suitability of the technique to study reef fish assemblages, but also highlight the importance of a sound methodological assessment since different biological responses and sampling designs are associated with different levels of sampling variability, precision and ecological relevance. Therefore, besides the direct usefulness of the results, the procedures to establish them may be just as valuable for researchers aiming to optimize their own sampling technique and design.

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