Species richness has been identified as a useful state variable for conservation and management purposes. Changes in richness over time provide a basis for predicting and evaluating community responses to management, to natural disturbance, and to changes in factors such as community composition (e.g., the removal of a keystone species). Probabilistic capture-recapture models have been used recently to estimate species richness from species count and presence-absence data. These models do not require the common assumption that all species are detected in sampling efforts. We extend this approach to the development of estimators useful for studying the vital rates responsible for changes in animal communities over time; rates of local species extinction, turnover, and colonization. Our approach to estimation is based on capture-recapture models for closed animal populations that permit heterogeneity in detection probabilities among the different species in the sampled community. We have developed a computer program, COMDYN, to compute many of these estimators and associated bootstrap variances. Analyses using data from the North American Breeding Bird Survey (BBS) suggested that the estimators performed reasonably well. We recommend estimators based on probabilistic modeling for future work on community responses to management efforts as well as on basic questions about community dynamics.
Additional publication details
Estimating rates of local species extinction, colonization and turnover in animal communities