Skip to main content
U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government

Realized population change for long-term monitoring: California spotted owl case study



Publication type:

Scientific Journal (JRNL)

Primary Station(s):

Pacific Southwest Research Station


Journal of Widlife Management 77(7):1449-1458


The annual rate of population change (λt) is a good metric for evaluating population performance because it summarizes survival and recruitment rates and can be used for open populations. Another measure of population performance, realized population change (Δt) is an encompassing metric of population trend over a period of time; it is the ratio of population size at an end time period relative to the initial population size. Our first goal was to compare mean λ and Δt as summaries of population change over time. Our second goal was to evaluate different methods for estimating these parameters; specifically we wished to compare the value of estimates from fixed effects models, random effects estimates from mixed effects models, and Bayesian MCMC methods. Our final goal was to evaluate the use of the posterior distribution of Δt as a means for estimating the probability of population decline retrospectively. To meet these goals, we used California spotted owl (Strix occidentalis occidentalis; CSO) data collected on 3 study areas from 1990-2011 as a case study. The estimated MCMC median λ for 2 of the study areas were 0.986 and 0.993, indicating declining populations, while median λ was 1.014 for the third study area, indicating an increasing population. For 2 of the study areas, estimated MCMC median Δt over the 18-year monitoring period was 0.78 and 0.89, suggesting 21 and 11% declines in population size, while the third study area was 1.22 suggesting a 22% increase. Results from Δt highlight that small differences in mean λ from 1.0 (stationary) can result in large differences in population size over a longer time period; these temporal impacts are better depicted by Δt. Fixed effects, random effects, and MCMC estimates of mean and median λ and of Δt were similar (≤ relative difference). The estimate of temporal process variance was larger for MCMC than the random effects estimates. Results from a Bayesian approach using MCMC simulations indicated that the probabilities of a ≥15% decline over 18 years were 0.69, 0.40, and 0.04 for the 3 study areas, while the probabilities the populations were stationary or increasing were 0.07, 0.22, and 0.82. For retrospective analyses of monitored populations, using Bayesian MCMC methods to generate a posterior distribution of Δt is a valuable conservation and management tool for robustly estimating probabilities of specified declines of interest.


Conner, Mary M.; Keane, John J.; Gallagher, Claire V.; Jehle, Gretchen; Munton, Thomas E.; Shaklee, Paula A.; Gerrard, Ross A. 2013. Realized population change for long-term monitoring: California spotted owl case study. Journal of Widlife Management 77(7):1449-1458.


Publication Notes

  • We recommend that you also print this page and attach it to the printout of the article, to retain the full citation information.
  • This article was written and prepared by U.S. Government employees on official time, and is therefore in the public domain.