What Biases Could Your Sampling Methods Add to Your Data?

Post provided by ROGER HO LEE

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Have you ever gone fishing? If so, you may have had the experience of not catching any fish, while the person next to you got plenty. If you walked along the pier or bank, you may have seen that other fishermen and -women caught fish of various shapes and sizes. You’d soon realise that each person was using a different set of equipment and baits, and of course, that the anglers differed in their skills and experience. Beneath the water were many fish, but whether you could catch them, or which species could even be caught, all depended on your fishing method, as well as where and how the fish you were targeting lived.

Designing Sampling Protocols

Head view of different ant species found in Hong Kong and further in SE Asia.

Head view of different ant species found in Hong Kong and further in South East Asia.

This is a lot like the situation that ecologists often face when designing sampling protocols for field surveys. While a comprehensive survey will yield the most complete information, few of us have the resources to capture every member of the community we’re studying. So, we take representative samples instead. But the method(s) used for sampling will only allow us to collect a subset of the species which are present. This selection of the species is not random per se – it’s dependent on species’ life history. Continue reading

Imperfect Pathogen Detection: What to Do When Sampling and Diagnostic Tests Produce Inaccurate Results

Post Provided by Graziella DiRenzo

A salamander having its skin swabbed to test for Bsal infection.

A salamander having its skin swabbed to test for Bsal infection.

Imagine you’re at the doctor’s office. You’re waiting to hear back on a critical test result. With recent emerging infectious diseases in human populations, you are worried you may be infected after a sampling trip to a remote field site. The doctor walks in. You sit nervously, sensing a slight tremble in your left leg. The doctor confidently declares, “Well, your tests results came back negative.” In that moment, you let out a sigh of relief, the kind you feel throughout your body. Then, thoughts start flooding your mind. You wonder– what are the rates of false negatives associated with the test? How sensitive is the diagnostic test to low levels of infection? The doctor didn’t sample all of your blood, so how can they be sure I’m not infected? Is the doctor’s conclusion right?

 Now, let’s say I’m the doctor and my patient is an amphibian. I don’t have an office where the amphibian can come in and listen to me explain the diagnosis or the progression of disease − BUT I do regularly test amphibians in the wild for a fatal fungal pathogen, known as Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis (commonly known as Bd). Diseases like Bd are among the leading causes of the approximately one-third of amphibian species that are threatened, near threatened, or vulnerable to extinction. To test for Bd, and the recently emerged sister taxon Batrachochytrium salamandrivorans (hereafter referred to as: Bsal), disease ecologists rely on non-invasive skin swabs. Continue reading