Sensitivity of migratory connectivity estimates to spatial sampling design

Stephen H. Vickers, Aldina M. A. Franco, James J. Gilroy

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The use of statistical methods to quantify the strength of migratory connectivity is commonplace. However, little attention has been given to their sensitivity to spatial sampling designs and scales of inference.


We examine sources of bias and imprecision in the most widely used methodology, Mantel correlations, under a range of plausible sampling regimes using simulated migratory populations.


As Mantel correlations depend fundamentally on the spatial scale and configuration of sampling, unbiased inferences about population-scale connectivity can only be made under certain sampling regimes. Within a contiguous population, samples drawn from smaller spatial subsets of the range generate lower connectivity metrics than samples drawn from the range as a whole, even when the underlying migratory ecology of the population is constant across the population. Random sampling of individuals from contiguous subsets of species ranges can therefore underestimate population-scale connectivity. Where multiple discrete sampling sites are used, by contrast, overestimation of connectivity can arise due to samples being biased towards larger between-individual pairwise distances in the seasonal range where sampling occurs (typically breeding). Severity of all biases was greater for populations with lower levels of true connectivity. When plausible sampling regimes were applied to realistic simulated populations, accuracy of connectivity measures was maximised by increasing the number of discrete sampling sites and ensuring an even spread of sites across the full range.


These results suggest strong potential for bias and imprecision when making quantitative inferences about migratory connectivity using Mantel statistics. Researchers wishing to apply these methods should limit inference to the spatial extent of their sampling, maximise their number of sampling sites, and avoid drawing strong conclusions based on small sample sizes.
Original languageEnglish
Article number16
JournalMovement Ecology
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2 Apr 2021

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