Temporary emigration was identified some time ago as causing potential problems in capture-recapture studies, and in the last five years approaches have been developed for dealing with special cases of this general problem. Temporary emigration can be viewed more generally as involving transitions to and from an unobservable state, and frequently the state itself is one of biological interest (e.g., 'nonbreeder'). Development of models that permit estimation of relevant parameters in the presence of an unobservable state requires either extra information (e.g., as supplied by Pollock's robust design) or the following classes of model constraints: reducing the order of Markovian transition probabilities, imposing a degree of determinism on transition probabilities, removing state specificity of survival probabilities, and imposing temporal constancy of parameters. The objective of the work described in this paper is to investigate estimability of model parameters under a variety of models that include an unobservable state. Beginning with a very general model and no extra information, we used numerical methods to systematically investigate the use of ancillary information and constraints to yield models that are useful for estimation. The result is a catalog of models for which estimation is possible. An example analysis of sea turtle capture-recapture data under two different models showed similar point estimates but increased precision for the model that incorporated ancillary data (the robust design) when compared to the model with deterministic transitions only. This comparison and the results of our numerical investigation of model structures lead to design suggestions for capture-recapture studies in the presence of an unobservable state.
Additional publication details
Estimating state-transition probabilities for unobservable states using capture-recapture/resighting data