Age-structured Jolly-Seber model expands inference and improves parameter estimation from capture-recapture data
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Age-structured Jolly-Seber model expands inference and improves parameter estimation from capture-recapture data

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    Understanding the influence of individual attributes on demographic processes is a key objective of wildlife population studies. Capture-recapture and age data are commonly collected to investigate hypotheses about survival, reproduction, and viability. We present a novel age-structured Jolly-Seber model that incorporates age and capture-recapture data to provide comprehensive information on population dynamics, including abundance, age-dependent survival, recruitment, age structure, and population growth rates. We applied our model to a multi-year capture-recapture study of polar bears (Ursus maritimus) in western Hudson Bay, Canada (2012–2018), where management and conservation require a detailed understanding of how polar bears respond to climate change and other factors. In simulation studies, the age-structured Jolly-Seber model improved precision of survival, recruitment, and annual abundance estimates relative to standard Jolly-Seber models that omit age information. Furthermore, incorporating age information improved precision of population growth rates, increased power to detect trends in abundance, and allowed direct estimation of age-dependent survival and changes in annual age structure. Our case study provided detailed evidence for senescence in polar bear survival. Median survival estimates were lower (0.95) for individuals aged 7–22 years, and subsequently declined to near zero for individuals >30 years. We also detected cascading effects of large recruitment classes on population age structure, which created major shifts in age structure when these classes entered the population and then again when they reached prime breeding ages (10–15 years old). Overall, age-structured Jolly-Seber models provide a flexible means to investigate ecological and evolutionary processes that shape populations (e.g., via senescence, life expectancy, and lifetime reproductive success) while improving our ability to investigate population dynamics and forecast population changes from capture-recapture data.
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    PLOS ONE, 16(6), e0252748
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    CC0 Public Domain
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