The probability of surviving and moving between 'states' is of great interest to biologists. Robust estimation of these transitions using multiple observations of individually identifiable marked individuals has received considerable attention in recent years. However, in some situations, individuals are not identifiable (or have a very low recapture rate), although all individuals in a sample can be assigned to a particular state (e.g. breeding or non-breeding) without error. In such cases, only aggregate data (number of individuals in a given state at each occasion) are available. If the underlying matrix of transition probabilities does not vary through time and aggregate data are available for several time periods, then it is possible to estimate these parameters using least-squares methods. Even when such data are available, this assumption of stationarity will usually be deemed overly restrictive and, frequently, data will only be available for two time periods. In these cases, the problem reduces to estimating the most likely matrix (or matrices) leading to the observed frequency distribution of individuals in each state. An entropy maximization approach has been previously suggested. In this paper, we show that the entropy approach rests on a particular limiting assumption, and does not provide estimates of latent population parameters (the transition probabilities), but rather predictions of realized rates.
Additional publication details
Estimating transition probabilities in unmarked populations --entropy revisited