, Volume 18, Issue 1, pp 27-55

Modeling misidentification errors that result from use of genetic tags in capture–recapture studies

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Misidentification of animals is potentially important when naturally existing features (natural tags) such as DNA fingerprints (genetic tags) are used to identify individual animals. For example, when misidentification leads to multiple identities being assigned to an animal, traditional estimators tend to overestimate population size. Accounting for misidentification in capture–recapture models requires detailed understanding of the mechanism. Using genetic tags as an example, we outline a framework for modeling the effect of misidentification in closed population studies when individual identification is based on natural tags that are consistent over time (non-evolving natural tags). We first assume a single sample is obtained per animal for each capture event, and then generalize to the case where multiple samples (such as hair or scat samples) are collected per animal per capture occasion. We introduce methods for estimating population size and, using a simulation study, we show that our new estimators perform well for cases with moderately high capture probabilities or high misidentification rates. In contrast, conventional estimators can seriously overestimate population size when errors due to misidentification are ignored.