Online workshop: Practical design and simulation to optimise distance sampling surveys, August 2023


Good survey design is critical for obtaining reliable results in distance sampling surveys and meeting survey objectives. This workshop expands on the basic theory provided in our introductory workshops to demonstrate how our latest software can be used to generate optimal survey designs while respecting budgetary and logistical constraints. We will demonstrate survey design using our R package dssd, and investigate design optimisation and the implications of deviations from our design assumptions using our latest simulation package dsims. We will also demonstrate the use of QGIS to obtain requisite input information.

We will explore a range of design challenges including, varying effort by strata, optimising design under budgetary constraints and multi-species designs by introducing case studies of both marine and terrestrial surveys. Participants will gain further hands-on experience with survey design and simulation in the form of a practical. Discussions on the final day will be tailored to participants own survey design challenges.

The workshop is designed to be interactive in format, with a chance for participants to discuss their own design problems. We encourage participants to book early and get in touch to let us know about relevant design challenges.


Laura Marshall and Len Thomas


  • 28th August 15:00 - 17:00 BST (UTC+1)
  • 29th August 15:00 - 17:00 BST (UTC+1)
  • 1-day gap for self-study
  • 31st August 15:00 - 17:00 BST (UTC+1)

Enrollment limit

15 participants.

Format and Delivery method

The workshop will be a mix of live online interactive sessions, delivered via videoconference software (Microsoft Teams), and computer exercises. There will be three sessions in total, with a total class time of 6 hours (including breaks) and two additional computer exercises to complete. It is advisable to allow around an hour and a half between days 1 and 2, and days 2 and 3 to complete these exercises. The exercises are in R using the dssd and dsims packages. We will demonstrate the use of QGIS, but it is not required on particpant’s computers.


Day 1: We will start the workshop with an interactive lecture on design with time for questions and discussion afterwards. We will present case studies of both marine and terrestrial surveys. These case studies will highlight design challenges such as when animal density varies considerably within the survey region, multi-species surveys and when sampling costs vary spatially within the survey region. This will be followed by a short introduction to QGIS and formatting shape files for use with dssd and dsims. A link to a video will also be provided giving you a detailed walk-though of the steps needed to create both single and multi-strata shapefiles in QGIS, for digestion at your own convenience. Lastly, we will introduce a survey design practical for you to complete before the start of day 2.

Day 2: We will start the second day with a discussion of the survey design practical. This will be followed by an introduction to simulating distance sampling surveys using dssd. We will discuss how simulations can be used to optimise designs, test the implications of deviations from our design assumptions and also how a well-implemented simulation study can help strenghten funding applications, providing reasoned justification for requested resources. We will then revisit the case studies from the previous day and use simulation in these examples to both optimise our designs and test how robust they are to departures from our design assumptions. We will introduce a simulation practical to be completed before the start of day 3. We have left a 1-day gap between days 2 and 3 to facilitate this.

Day 3: The third day will start with a discussion of the simulation practical. The rest of this session will then be open for discussion of any design or simulation considerations relevant to surveys being planned by participants. Please sign up early and get in touch to let us know about design challenges you are facing!


You should already know about distance sampling survey design, for example by having taken a face-to-face introductory workshop or the design section of the online workshop (either interactive or via our free pre-recorded lectures ). You should also have some experience of using R, and have the relevant software downloaded and installed in advance of the workshop. We will offer pre-workshop group meetings to check the video-conferencing software, and that you have the design software correctly installed.

Registration and Payment

Registration is now closed, to allow us to run tests with participants on the video-conference system.

All participants are asked to abide by our workshop code of conduct.

Widening participation scholarship

The deadline for widening participation scholarship applications has now passed.


For more information about the workshop please contact Laura Marshall, email:

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