Many researchers have obtained extinction-rate estimates for plant populations by comparing historical and current records of occurrence. A population that is no longer found is assumed to have gone extinct. Extinction can then be related to characteristics of these populations, such as habitat type, size, or species, to test ideas about what factors may affect extinction. Such studies neglect the fact that a population may be overlooked, however, which may bias estimates of extinction rates upward. In addition, if populations are unequally detectable across groups to be compared, such as habitat type or population size, comparisons become distorted to an unknown degree. To illustrate the problem, I simulated two data sets, assuming a constant extinction rate, in which populations occurred in different habitats or habitats of different size and these factors affected their detectability The conventional analysis implicitly assumed that detectability equalled 1 and used logistic regression to estimate extinction rates. It wrongly identified habitat and population size as factors affecting extinction risk. In contrast, with capture-recapture methods, unbiased estimates of extinction rates were recovered. I argue that capture-recapture methods should be considered more often in estimations of demographic parameters in plant populations and communities.
Additional publication details
Extinction rate estimates for plant populations in revisitation studies: Importance of detectability