Exploring sensitivity of a multistate occupancy model to inform management decisions


Corresponding author. E-mail: awgreen@colostate.edu


1. Dynamic occupancy models are often used to investigate questions regarding the processes that influence patch occupancy and are prominent in the fields of population and community ecology and conservation biology. Recently, multistate occupancy models have been developed to investigate dynamic systems involving more than one occupied state, including reproductive states, relative abundance states and joint habitat-occupancy states. Here we investigate the sensitivities of the equilibrium-state distribution of multistate occupancy models to changes in transition rates.

2. We develop equilibrium occupancy expressions and their associated sensitivity metrics for dynamic multistate occupancy models. To illustrate our approach, we use two examples that represent common multistate occupancy systems. The first example involves a three-state dynamic model involving occupied states with and without successful reproduction (California spotted owl Strix occidentalis occidentalis), and the second involves a novel way of using a multistate occupancy approach to accommodate second-order Markov processes (wood frog Lithobates sylvatica breeding and metamorphosis).

3. In many ways, multistate sensitivity metrics behave in similar ways as standard occupancy sensitivities. When equilibrium occupancy rates are low, sensitivity to parameters related to colonisation is high, while sensitivity to persistence parameters is greater when equilibrium occupancy rates are high. Sensitivities can also provide guidance for managers when estimates of transition probabilities are not available.

4.Synthesis and applications. Multistate models provide practitioners a flexible framework to define multiple, distinct occupied states and the ability to choose which state, or combination of states, is most relevant to questions and decisions about their own systems. In addition to standard multistate occupancy models, we provide an example of how a second-order Markov process can be modified to fit a multistate framework. Assuming the system is near equilibrium, our sensitivity analyses illustrate how to investigate the sensitivity of the system-specific equilibrium state(s) to changes in transition rates. Because management will typically act on these transition rates, sensitivity analyses can provide valuable information about the potential influence of different actions and when it may be prudent to shift the focus of management among the various transition rates.