Advances and applications of occupancy models



  1. The past decade has seen an explosion in the development and application of models aimed at estimating species occurrence and occupancy dynamics while accounting for possible non-detection or species misidentification.
  2. We discuss some recent occupancy estimation methods and the biological systems that motivated their development. Collectively, these models offer tremendous flexibility, but simultaneously place added demands on the investigator.
  3. Unlike many mark–recapture scenarios, investigators utilizing occupancy models have the ability, and responsibility, to define their sample units (i.e. sites), replicate sampling occasions, time period over which species occurrence is assumed to be static and even the criteria that constitute ‘detection’ of a target species. Subsequent biological inference and interpretation of model parameters depend on these definitions and the ability to meet model assumptions.
  4. We demonstrate the relevance of these definitions by highlighting applications from a single biological system (an amphibian–pathogen system) and discuss situations where the use of occupancy models has been criticized. Finally, we use these applications to suggest future research and model development.