Estimation of brood and nest survival: Comparative methods in the presence of heterogeneity

Journal of Wildlife Management
By:  and 



The Mayfield method has been widely used for estimating survival of nests and young animals, especially when data are collected at irregular observation intervals. However, this method assumes survival is constant throughout the study period, which often ignores biologically relevant variation and may lead to biased survival estimates. We examined the bias and accuracy of 1 modification to the Mayfield method that allows for temporal variation in survival, and we developed and similarly tested 2 additional methods. One of these 2 new methods is simply an iterative extension of Klett and Johnson's method, which we refer to as the Iterative Mayfield method and bears similarity to Kaplan-Meier methods. The other method uses maximum likelihood techniques for estimation and is best applied to survival of animals in groups or families, rather than as independent individuals. We also examined how robust these estimators are to heterogeneity in the data, which can arise from such sources as dependent survival probabilities among siblings, inherent differences among families, and adoption. Testing of estimator performance with respect to bias, accuracy, and heterogeneity was done using simulations that mimicked a study of survival of emperor goose (Chen canagica) goslings. Assuming constant survival for inappropriately long periods of time or use of Klett and Johnson's methods resulted in large bias or poor accuracy (often >5% bias or root mean square error) compared to our Iterative Mayfield or maximum likelihood methods. Overall, estimator performance was slightly better with our Iterative Mayfield than our maximum likelihood method, but the maximum likelihood method provides a more rigorous framework for testing covariates and explicity models a heterogeneity factor. We demonstrated use of all estimators with data from emperor goose goslings. We advocate that future studies use the new methods outlined here rather than the traditional Mayfield method or its previous modifications.

Additional publication details

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Estimation of brood and nest survival: Comparative methods in the presence of heterogeneity
Series title Journal of Wildlife Management
DOI 10.2307/3802905
Volume 65
Issue 2
Year Published 2001
Language English
Publisher Wiley
Contributing office(s) Alaska Science Center
Description 13 p.
First page 258
Last page 270