A new approach to the "apparent survival" problem: Estimating true survival rates from mark-recapture studies

J.J. Gilroy, T. Virzi, R.L. Boulton, J.L. Lockwood

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

67 Citations (Scopus)


Survival estimates generated from live capture-mark-recapture studies may be negatively biased due to the permanent emigration of marked individuals from the study area. In the absence of a robust analytical solution, researchers typically sidestep this problem by simply reporting estimates using the term "apparent survival." Here, we present a hierarchical Bayesian multistate model designed to estimate true survival by accounting for predicted rates of permanent emigration. Initially we use dispersal kernels to generate spatial projections of dispersal probability around each capture location. From these projections, we estimate emigration probability for each marked individual and use the resulting values to generate bias-adjusted survival estimates from individual capture histories. When tested using simulated data sets featuring variable detection probabilities, survival rates, and dispersal patterns, the model consistently eliminated negative biases shown by apparent survival estimates from standard models. When applied to a case study concerning juvenile survival in the endangered Cape Sable Seaside Sparrow (Ammodramus maritimus mirabilis), bias-adjusted survival estimates increased more than twofold above apparent survival estimates. Our approach is applicable to any capture-mark-recapture study design and should be particularly valuable for organisms with dispersive juvenile life stages.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1509-1516
Number of pages8
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jul 2012


  • Ammodramus maritimus mirabilis
  • Bayesian
  • Cape Sable Seaside Sparrow
  • demography
  • dispersal
  • emigration rates
  • hierarchical multistate models
  • juvenile survival

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