A general framework for modeling population abundance data

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Abstract Time‐series data resulting from surveying wild animals are often described using state‐space population dynamics models, in particular with Gompertz, Beverton‐Holt, or Moran‐Ricker latent processes. We show how hidden Markov model methodology provides a flexible framework for fitting a wide range of models to such data. This general approach makes it possible to model abundance on the natural or log scale, include multiple observations at each sampling occasion and compare alternative models using information criteria. It also easily accommodates unequal sampling time intervals, should that possibility occur, and allows testing for density dependence using the bootstrap. The paper is illustrated by replicated time series of red kangaroo abundances, and a univariate time series of ibex counts which are an order of magnitude larger. In the analyses carried out, we fit different latent process and observation models using the hidden Markov framework. Results are robust with regard to the necessary discretization of the state variable. We find no effective difference between the three latent models of the paper in terms of maximized likelihood value for the two applications presented, and also others analyzed. Simulations suggest that ecological time series are not sufficiently informative to distinguish between alternative latent processes for modeling population survey data when data do not indicate strong density dependence.

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