CONS 645: Estimating Animal Abundance and Occupancy

This course is designed to provide a strong theoretical and analytical background to graduate students 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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This course will be offered next in 2018/2019.


Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute in Front Royal, Virginia

Application Procedure

We are not currently accepting applications for this course. Check back here for updates.

Course Costs

The total cost for this course is $3,221.00 for Virginia residents and $4,126.25 for out-of-state applicants. This cost includes our Housing and Dining Package ($825.50) and covers:

  • Tuition for 3-credits through George Mason University
  • 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 the day before arrival and ends with breakfast on the day after the course concludes.
  • Housing at the SMSC Residential Facility, including a shared room with bathroom (single rooms available at extra cost) – Lodging begins the night before arrival and checkout is on the morning after the course concludes.


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