Known unknowns in an imperfect world: incorporating uncertainty in recruitment estimates using multi-event capture–recapture models
Article first published online: 25 OCT 2013
© 2013 The Authors. Ecology and Evolution published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd.
This is an open access article under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits use, distribution and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.
Ecology and Evolution
Volume 3, Issue 14, pages 4658–4668, November 2013
How to Cite
Ecology and Evolution 2013; 3(14): 4658–4668
- Issue published online: 25 NOV 2013
- Article first published online: 25 OCT 2013
- Manuscript Accepted: 19 SEP 2013
- Manuscript Revised: 17 SEP 2013
- Manuscript Received: 14 JUN 2013
- International Macquarie University Research Excellence Scholarship.
- breeding state assignment;
- multistate capture–recapture models;
- southern elephant seals;
- state uncertainty;
- vital rates
Studying the demography of wild animals remains challenging as several of the critical parts of their life history may be difficult to observe in the field. In particular, determining with certainty when an individual breeds for the first time is not always obvious. This can be problematic because uncertainty about the transition from a prebreeder to a breeder state – recruitment – leads to uncertainty in vital rate estimates and in turn in population projection models. To avoid this issue, the common practice is to discard imperfect data from the analyses. However, this practice can generate a bias in vital rate estimates if uncertainty is related to a specific component of the population and reduces the sample size of the dataset and consequently the statistical power to detect effects of biological interest. Here, we compared the demographic parameters assessed from a standard multistate capture–recapture approach to the estimates obtained from the newly developed multi-event framework that specifically accounts for uncertainty in state assessment. Using a comprehensive longitudinal dataset on southern elephant seals, we demonstrated that the multi-event model enabled us to use all the data collected (6639 capture–recapture histories vs. 4179 with the multistate model) by accounting for uncertainty in breeding states, thereby increasing the precision and accuracy of the demographic parameter estimates. The multi-event model allowed us to incorporate imperfect data into demographic analyses. The gain in precision obtained has important implications in the conservation and management of species because limiting uncertainty around vital rates will permit predicting population viability with greater accuracy.