MCCS 0511: Estimating Animal Abundance and Occupancy

This course is designed to provide a strong theoretical and analytical background to wildlife and conservation professionals in distance sampling, mark-recapture, and occupancy modeling techniques, with a strong focus on the practical use of field data in the programs DISTANCE, MARK and PRESENCE. In the intensive 2-week program, a day of broad introduction to the course and the statistical concepts that underlie all three analytical techniques will be followed by approximately three days of focus on each type of analysis. Each 3-day module will begin with a detailed treatment of theoretical concepts and case studies, followed by computer work with each respective program.

White-footed Mouse with ear tag commonly used in Mark-Recapture field studies. Photo by Wim Nursal.

Computer work will include use of real field data, and focus on identifying problems with one’s dataset, selecting appropriate models, and interpreting analysis results. Case studies will focus on vertebrate studies, primarily involving birds and terrestrial mammals. By the end of the course, participants will be comfortable identifying the scientific questions that can be addressed with each technique and implementing basic analyses in all three programs. More advanced techniques in each program will be demonstrated, indicating when they are appropriate and how results can be interpreted. Finally, participants will leave the course with a detailed list of available resources, in both print and online, to assist in the use of more advanced techniques. Each course module will be led by a different team of expert instructors. Mark-recapture analysis in the program MARK will be taught by Dr. Gary White (author and maintainer of the program), and occupancy modeling in the program PRESENCE will be led by Jim Hines (author and maintainer of the program) and Dr. Jim Nichols from the Patuxent Wildlife Research Center. Distance sampling will be taught by Smithsonian ecologist Dr. Joe Kolowski.

Participants should have previously completed basic statistics coursework or have previous experience with statistics.

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Praise for the course:

“This course is amazing. If you’re looking for a comprehensive foundation to abundance and occupancy analytical techniques, this course is a must!” – Rabia’h Ryklief, Ph.D. Student, Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University, South Africa

“As a wildlife conservation biologist, this is the single most useful statistics course I have ever taken” – Chris Wilson, Director of Conservation Science, Santa Lucia Conservancy, California, USA

“A perfect opportunity for someone with lots of data and little direction.” – Daniel Leavitt, Research Biologist/Senior Project Manager, Arizona Game and Fish Department, Arizona, USA



August 15-26, 2016


Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute in Front Royal, Virginia

Application Procedure

Estimating Animal Abundance and Occupancy is offered through the Smithsonian-Mason School of Conservation as a professional training course for 6 Continuing Education Units (CEUs). Applications should be submitted using our Online Application Page. Before beginning our online application, please have .pdf or .doc versions of your updated CV, a Personal Statement of Interest and Qualifications (maximum 350 words), and a letter of recommendation from someone familiar with your academic/professional work. You’ll be asked to attach these with your application.

For first consideration, apply before June 6, 2016

Course Costs

Payment Deadline: June 20, 2016

The total cost for this course is $2,925.50 (Course fee of $2100 + Housing and Dining Package of $825.50). Those applying as citizens of “less-developed” nations qualify for a reduced course fee of $1200, making the total cost including housing (shared double room) and dining package $2025.50. Click HERE to check if your country of citizenship qualifies you for the reduced course fee. Your total course payment includes:

  • Registration fees
  • Instruction, course manual, textbooks and other course materials
  • Pick-up and drop-off at Dulles International airport, and transportation for course activities
  • Daily full-service buffet at the SMSC Dining Commons – Dining begins with dinner on Sunday, August 14 and ends with breakfast on Saturday, August 27.
  • Housing at the SMSC Residential Facility, including a shared room with bathroom (single rooms available at extra cost) – Lodging begins Sunday night, August 14 and check out is Saturday, August 27.


Scholarships are available on a competitive basis for eligible applicants. Click HERE for more information on scholarships.


Local participants may elect to stay off campus, waive the housing and dining package, and commute to this course. Meals in the Dining Commons can be purchased individually as needed.

For more information