Many studies of pond-breeding amphibians involve sampling individuals during migration to and from breeding habitats. Interpreting population processes and dynamics from these studies is difficult because (1) only a proportion of the population is observable each season, while an unknown proportion remains unobservable (e.g., non-breeding adults) and (2) not all observable animals are captured. Imperfect capture probability can be easily accommodated in capture?recapture models, but temporary transitions between observable and unobservable states, often referred to as temporary emigration, is known to cause problems in both open- and closed-population models. We develop a multistate mark?recapture (MSMR) model, using an open-robust design that permits one entry and one exit from the study area per season. Our method extends previous temporary emigration models (MSMR with an unobservable state) in two ways. First, we relax the assumption of demographic closure (no mortality) between consecutive (secondary) samples, allowing estimation of within-pond survival. Also, we add the flexibility to express survival probability of unobservable individuals (e.g., ?non-breeders?) as a function of the survival probability of observable animals while in the same, terrestrial habitat. This allows for potentially different annual survival probabilities for observable and unobservable animals. We apply our model to a relictual population of eastern tiger salamanders (Ambystoma tigrinum tigrinum). Despite small sample sizes, demographic parameters were estimated with reasonable precision. We tested several a priori biological hypotheses and found evidence for seasonal differences in pond survival. Our methods could be applied to a variety of pond-breeding species and other taxa where individuals are captured entering or exiting a common area (e.g., spawning or roosting area, hibernacula).
Additional publication details
Estimating survival and breeding probability for pond-breeding amphibians: a modified robust design