Hierarchical Bayesian Small Area Estimation Using Weakly Informative Priors in Ecologically Homogeneous Areas of the Interior Western Forests

By Grayson W. White, Kelly S. McConville, Gretchen G. Moisen, and Tracey S. Frescino

December 15, 2021

Abstract

The U.S. Forest Inventory and Analysis Program (FIA) collects inventory data on and computes estimates for many forest attributes to monitor the status and trends of the nation’s forests. Increasingly, FIA needs to produce estimates in small geographic and temporal regions. In this application, we implement area level hierarchical Bayesian (HB) small area estimators of several forest attributes for ecosubsections in the Interior West of the US. We use a remotely-sensed auxiliary variable, percent tree canopy cover, to predict response variables derived from ground-collected data such as basal area, biomass, tree count, and volume. We implement four area level HB estimators that borrow strength across ecological provinces and sections and consider prior information on the between-area variation of the response variables. We compare the performance of these HB estimators to the area level empirical best linear unbiased prediction (EBLUP) estimator and to the industry-standard post-stratified (PS) direct estimator. Results suggest that when borrowing strength to areas which are believed to be homogeneous (such as the ecosection level) and a weakly informative prior distribution is placed on the between-area variation parameter, we can reduce variance substantially compared the analogous EBLUP estimator and the PS estimator. Explorations of bias introduced with the HB estimators through comparison with the PS estimator indicates little to no addition of bias. These results illustrate the applicability and benefit of performing small area estimation of forest attributes in a HB framework, as they allow for more precise inference at the ecosubsection level.

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Posted on:
December 15, 2021
Length:
2 minute read, 266 words
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