Ongoing large-scale habitat disturbance requires quick identification of conservation priorities such as targeting sites rich in species and/or endemics. Biodiversity assessments are time consuming and expensive, so surveys often rely on partial sampling. Optimal use should be made of all currently available sources of information, but methodological differences between surveys hamper direct comparison. Because diversity depends on spatial scale, diversity characteristics of different sites are best compared on the basis of species-area relationships. As a result of the incompleteness of sampling, the observed species-area relationship deviates from the "true" species-area relationship.
In this paper, we identify five key factors affecting the shape of the species-area relationship due to incomplete sampling: (1) the total spatial extent of the observations, (2) the spatial distribution of the observations, (3) the proportion of the total extent sampled, (4) the proportion of the individuals in the sampled area included in the survey, and (5) the proportion of the included individuals successfully identified. We outline how methodologically different surveys can be combined to optimize the use of existing data in the evaluation of conservation needs, particularly for tropical forests.
As an illustration, we analyzed four methodologically different botanical surveys in the same area of old growth lowland forest in South Cameroon with the aim of reconciling these surveys. The four surveys were (1) reconnaissance scale vegetation mapping, (2) detailed botanical assessment (all individuals), (3) incomplete botanical assessment (10% individuals), and (4) herbarium collections.
By correcting for the five key factors we were able to match the results of the four different biodiversity surveys. The five key factors affected the recorded number of species and endemics differently; partial sampling of extent (3) and individuals (4) and partial identification of individuals (5) were the three most important factors.
We conclude that reconciliation of biodiversity assessments is possible if the differences between methods can be accounted for. We advocate reliable documentation of survey methods, especially the five key factors, because it greatly enhances the potential of combining methodologically different surveys for comparative biodiversity analyses.
Appendix A. A table and figure portraying scientific effort made in surveying, processing, and identifying plants in four different surveys and the relation of effort to diversity estimates