Many methods are used to survey butterfly populations, with line transect and area surveys being prominent. Observers are typically limited to search within 5 or 10 m from the line, while observers are unrestricted in larger specified search regions in area surveys. Although methods differ slightly, the selection is often based on producing defendable data for conservation, maximizing data quality, and minimizing effort. To guide method selection, we compared butterfly surveys using 1) line versus area methods and 2) varying width transects (5 m, 10 m, or unrestricted) using count data from surveys in North Dakota from 2015 to 2018. Between line and area surveys, we detected more individuals with area surveys, even when accounting for effort. However, both methods accumulated new species at similar rates. When comparing transect methodology, we detected nearly 60% more individuals and nine more species when transect width increased from 5 m to unrestricted, despite similar effort across methodology. Overall, we found line surveys slightly less efficient at detecting individuals, but they collected similar species richness to area surveys when accounting for effort. Additionally, line surveys allow the use of unrestricted-width transects with distance sampling procedures, which were more effective at detecting species and individuals while providing a means to correct count data over the same transect length. Methods that reduce effort and accurately depict communities are especially important for conservation when long-term datasets are unavailable.
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