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The effects of environmental perturbation and measurement error on estimates of the shape parameter in the theta-logistic model of population regulation

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Daniel Barker, Richard M. Sibly

School/Research organisations


The theta-logistic is a widely used generalisation of the logistic model of regulated biological processes which is used in particular to model population regulation. Then the parameter theta gives the shape of the relationship between per-capita population growth rate and population size. Estimation of theta from population counts is however subject to bias, particularly when there are measurement errors. Here we identify factors disposing towards accurate estimation of theta by simulation of populations regulated according to the theta-logistic model. Factors investigated were measurement error, environmental perturbation and length of time series. Large measurement errors bias estimates of theta towards zero. Where estimated theta is close to zero, the estimated annual return rate may help resolve whether this is due to bias. Environmental perturbations help yield unbiased estimates of theta. Where environmental perturbations are large, estimates of theta are likely to be reliable even when measurement errors are also large. By contrast where the environment is relatively constant, unbiased estimates of theta can only be obtained if populations are counted precisely Our results have practical conclusions for the design of long-term population surveys. Estimation of the precision of population counts would be valuable, and could be achieved in practice by repeating counts in at least some years. Increasing the length of time series beyond ten or 20 years yields only small benefits. if populations are measured with appropriate accuracy, given the level of environmental perturbation, unbiased estimates can be obtained from relatively short censuses. These conclusions are optimistic for estimation of theta. (C) 2008 Elsevier B.V All rights reserved.



Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)170-177
Number of pages8
JournalEcological Modelling
Issue number1-2
Publication statusPublished - 24 Nov 2008

    Research areas

  • Density dependence, Theta-logistic, Generalised logistic, Observation error, Environmental stochasticity, Bias, Simulation, Return rate, DENSITY-DEPENDENCE, GROWTH-FUNCTION, TIME-SERIES, DYNAMICS, MAMMALS, FISH, ABUNDANCE, INSECTS, NOISE, BIRDS

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