Rather than using a randomised survey design (places surveyed in the study area are representative of places not surveyed) to make inference to the study area, there is an alternative. Model-based inference constructs models of the relationship between the number of animal (adjusted for imperfect detectability, see distance sampling) and environmental features. These environmental features may be sea surface temperature for a marine species, or distance to water source for terrestrial species. Such models not only estimate abundance for a study area, but also can produce spatial maps of distribution of animals throughout the study area.
Paxton, C.G.M., Scott-Hayward, L.A.S. & Rexstad, E. 2014. Statistical approaches to aid the identification of Marine Protected Areas for minke whale, Risso's dolphin, white-beaked dolphin and basking shark. Scottish Natural Heritage Commissioned Report No. 594.