Complete tag loss in capture-recapture studies affects abundance estimates: An elephant seal case study




Malcolm-White, Emily
McMahon, Clive R.
Cowen, Laura L.E.

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Ecology and Evolution


In capture–recapture studies, recycled individuals occur when individuals lose all of their tags and are recaptured as though they were new individuals. Typically, the effect of these recycled individuals is assumed negligible. Through a simulation‐based study of double‐tagging experiments, we examined the effect of recycled individuals on parameter estimates in the Jolly–Seber model with tag loss (Cowen & Schwarz, 2006). We validated the simulation framework using long‐term census data of elephant seals. Including recycled individuals did not affect estimates of capture, survival, and tag‐retention probabilities. However, with low tag‐retention rates, high capture rates, and high survival rates, recycled individuals produced overestimates of population size. For the elephant seal case study, we found population size estimates to be between 8% and 53% larger when recycled individuals were ignored. Ignoring the effects of recycled individuals can cause large biases in population size estimates. These results are particularly noticeable in longer studies.



abundance, capture-mark-recapture, complete tag loss, demography, double tagging, elephant seal, Jolly-Seber, recycled individual


Malcolm-White, E., McMahon, C. R., & Cowen, L. L. E. (2020). Complete tag loss in capturerecapture studies affects abundance estimates: An elephant seal case study. Ecology and Evolution, 10(5), 2377-2384.