Agent-based models reveal limits of mark-release-recapture estimates for the rare butterfly, Bhutanitis thaidina (Lepidoptera: Papilionidae)

Published Date: 
July 14, 2021

Insect diversity and abundance are in drastic decline worldwide, but quantifying insect populations to better conserve them is a difficult task. Mark-release-recapture (MRR) is widely used as an ecological indicator for insect populations, but the accuracy of MRR estimates can vary with factors such as spatial scale, sampling effort and models of inference. We conducted a three-year MRR study of B. thaidina in Yanzigou valley, Mt. Gongga but failed to obtain sufficient data for a robust population estimate. This prompted us to integrate B. thaidina life history information to parameterize agent-based models and evaluate the conditions under which successful MRR studies could be conducted. We evaluated: (1) the performance of MRR models under different landscape types, and (2) the influence of experimental design on the accuracy and variance of MRR-based estimates. Our simulations revealed systematic underestimates of true population parameters by MRR models when sampling effort was insufficient. In a total of 2772 simulations, subjective decisions in sampling protocol (e.g. frequency, number of sampling locations, use of spatially explicit models, type of estimands) accounted for nearly half of the variation in estimates. We conclude that MRR-based estimates could be improved with the addition of more field-specific parameters. This article is protected by copyright. All rights reserved.

Zhengyang Wang, Yuanheng Li, Anuj Jain, Naomi E Pierce