Coloniality has mainly been studied from an evolutionary perspective, but relatively few studies have developed methods for modelling colony dynamics. Changes in number of colonies over time provide a useful tool for predicting and evaluating the responses of colonial species to management and to environmental disturbance. Probabilistic Markov process models have been recently used to estimate colony site dynamics using presence-absence data when all colonies are detected in sampling efforts. Here, we define and develop two general approaches for the modelling and analysis of colony dynamics for sampling situations in which all colonies are, and are not, detected. For both approaches, we develop a general probabilistic model for the data and then constrain model parameters based on various hypotheses about colony dynamics. We use Akaike's Information Criterion (AIC) to assess the adequacy of the constrained models. The models are parameterised with conditional probabilities of local colony site extinction and colonization. Presence-absence data arising from Pollock's robust capture-recapture design provide the basis for obtaining unbiased estimates of extinction, colonization, and detection probabilities when not all colonies are detected. This second approach should be particularly useful in situations where detection probabilities are heterogeneous among colony sites. The general methodology is illustrated using presence-absence data on two species of herons (Purple Heron, Ardea purpurea and Grey Heron, Ardea cinerea). Estimates of the extinction and colonization rates showed interspecific differences and strong temporal and spatial variations. We were also able to test specific predictions about colony dynamics based on ideas about habitat change and metapopulation dynamics. We recommend estimators based on probabilistic modelling for future work on colony dynamics. We also believe that this methodological framework has wide application to problems in animal ecology concerning metapopulation and community dynamics.
Additional publication details
Estimating rates of local extinction and colonization in colonial species and an extension to the metapopulation and community levels