• Corresponding Editor: S. T. Buckland


The temporal symmetry approach of R. Pradel can be used with capture– recapture data to produce retrospective estimates of a population's growth rate, λi, and the relative contributions to λi from different components of the population. Direct estimation of λi provides an alternative to using population projection matrices to estimate asymptotic λ and is seeing increased use. However, the robustness of direct estimates of λi to violations of several key assumptions has not yet been investigated. Here, we consider tag loss as a possible source of bias for scenarios in which the rate of tag loss is (1) the same for all marked animals in the population and (2) a function of tag age. We computed analytic approximations of the expected values for each of the parameter estimators involved in direct estimation and used those values to calculate bias and precision for each parameter estimator. Estimates of λi were robust to homogeneous rates of tag loss. When tag loss rates varied by tag age, bias occurred for some of the sampling situations evaluated, especially those with low capture probability, a high rate of tag loss, or both. For situations with low rates of tag loss and high capture probability, bias was low and often negligible. Estimates of contributions of demographic components to λi were not robust to tag loss. Tag loss reduced the precision of all estimates because tag loss results in fewer marked animals remaining available for estimation. Clearly tag loss should be prevented if possible, and should be considered in analyses of λi, but tag loss does not necessarily preclude unbiased estimation of λi.