Estimating the survival of unmarked young from repeated counts

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Estimating the survival of juveniles is important to the study of ecology and wildlife management. Methods to estimate survival from uniquely marked young are generally preferred but may be difficult to implement. Alternative methods to estimate juvenile survival based on counts of unmarked young with marked parents generally do not account for detection probability or encounter difficulty estimating survival when there are >5 offspring. We developed a hierarchical Bayesian model to estimate survival of unmarked offspring from known (marked) parents from a minimum of two counts on while accounting for imperfect detection. We simulated data to evaluate the performance of the model across a range of detection probabilities and sample sizes and to explore violations of some model assumptions. We then demonstrate the utility of this approach by estimating chick survival for a population of ring-necked pheasants Phasianus colchicus in east-central Illinois, USA. Mean error of parameter estimates decreased with increasing sample sizes and detection probability and was greater for covariate coefficients, compared to mean detection or survival probabilities. However, posterior distributions of mean survival and detection parameters were poorly estimated and had small effective sample sizes when the mean detection probability was ≤0.4 or the number of broods comprising the sample were <30. The model was relatively robust to violations of the model's closure assumption, with a <0.04 increase in bias of detection and survival probabilities when survival between repeated counts was <1. When applied to our data set of 38 pheasant broods, we were able to identify important temporal and environmental covariates affecting survival and detection. Mean detection probability was only 0.56. We believe the coupling of this model with an appropriate field sampling framework provides a useful and flexible approach that is time-and cost-efficient for estimating survival of unmarked young.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number00529
JournalWildlife Biology
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2020


  • brood flush
  • chick survival
  • detection probability
  • flush count
  • juvenile survival
  • ring-necked pheasant

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Nature and Landscape Conservation
  • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law


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