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Volume 90, Issue 5 p. 1291-1300
Article

The use of sighting records to infer species extinctions: an evaluation of different methods

Marcelo M. Rivadeneira

Corresponding Author

Marcelo M. Rivadeneira

Section of Ecology, Behavior and Evolution, Division of Biological Sciences, University of California–San Diego, La Jolla, California 92093-0116 USA

 Present address: Centro de Estudios Avanzados en Zonas Aridas (CEAZA) and Departamento de Biología Marina, Facultad de Ciencias del Mar, Universidad Católica del Norte, Larrondo 1281, Coquimbo 1781421 Chile. E-mail: [email protected]Search for more papers by this author
Gene Hunt

Gene Hunt

Department of Paleobiology, National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution, P.O. Box 37012 NHB MRC 121, Washington, D.C. 20013-7012 USA

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Kaustuv Roy

Kaustuv Roy

Section of Ecology, Behavior and Evolution, Division of Biological Sciences, University of California–San Diego, La Jolla, California 92093-0116 USA

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First published: 01 May 2009
Citations: 93

Corresponding Editor (ad hoc): A. R. Solow.

Abstract

In the absence of long-term monitoring data, inferences about extinctions of species and populations are generally based on past observations about the presence of a particular species at specified places and times (sightings). Several methods have been developed to estimate the probability and timing of extinctions from records of such sightings, but they differ in their computational complexity and assumptions about the nature of the sighting record. Here we use simulations to evaluate the performance of seven methods proposed to estimate the upper confidence limit on extinction times under different extinction and sampling scenarios. Our results show that the ability of existing methods to correctly estimate the timing of extinctions varies with the type of extinction (sudden vs. gradual) and the nature of sampling effort over time. When the probability of sampling a species declines over time, many of the methods perform poorly. On the other hand, the simulation results also suggest that as long as the choice of the method is determined by the nature of the underlying sighting data, existing methods should provide reliable inferences about the timing of past extinctions.