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Ecology. 2006 Jan;87(1):189-202.

Sampling variability and estimates of density dependence: a composite-likelihood approach.

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  • 1Department of Mathematical and Statistical Sciences, University of Alberta, Edmonton, Canada.


It is well known that sampling variability, if not properly taken into account, affects various ecologically important analyses. Statistical inference for stochastic population dynamics models is difficult when, in addition to the process error, there is also sampling error. The standard maximum-likelihood approach suffers from large computational burden. In this paper, I discuss an application of the composite-likelihood method for estimation of the parameters of the Gompertz model in the presence of sampling variability. The main advantage of the method of composite likelihood is that it reduces the computational burden substantially with little loss of statistical efficiency. Missing observations are a common problem with many ecological time series. The method of composite likelihood can accommodate missing observations in a straightforward fashion. Environmental conditions also affect the parameters of stochastic population dynamics models. This method is shown to handle such nonstationary population dynamics processes as well. Many ecological time series are short, and statistical inferences based on such short time series tend to be less precise. However, spatial replications of short time series provide an opportunity to increase the effective sample size. Application of likelihood-based methods for spatial time-series data for population dynamics models is computationally prohibitive. The method of composite likelihood is shown to have significantly less computational burden, making it possible to analyze large spatial time-series data. After discussing the methodology in general terms, I illustrate its use by analyzing a time series of counts of American Redstart (Setophaga ruticilla) from the Breeding Bird Survey data, San Joaquin kit fox (Vulpes macrotis mutica) population abundance data, and spatial time series of Bull trout (Salvelinus confluentus) redds count data.

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