Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Units Program: Minnesota
Education, Research and Technical Assistance for Managing Our Natural Resources

Waterhouse, L., White, J., See, K., Murdoch, A., & Semmens, B. X. (2020). A Bayesian nested patch occupancy model to estimate steelhead movement and abundance. Ecological Applications, 30(8), e02202.


Anthropogenic impacts on riverine systems have, in part, led to management concerns regarding the population status of species using these systems. In an effort to assess the efficacy of restoration actions, and in order to improve monitoring of species of concern, managers have turned to PIT (passive integrated transponder) tag studies with in-stream detectors to monitor movements of tagged individuals throughout river networks. However, quantifying movements in a river network using PIT tag data with incomplete coverage and imperfect detections presents a challenge. We propose a flexible Bayesian analytic framework that models the imperfectly detected movements of tagged individuals in a nested PIT tag array river network. This model structure provides probabilistic estimates of up-stream migration routes for each tagged individual based on a set of underlying nested state variables. These movement estimates can be converted into abundance estimates when an estimate of abundance is available for a location within the river network. We apply the model framework to data from steelhead (Oncorhynchus mykiss) in the Upper Columbia River basin and evaluate model performance (precision/variance of simulated population sizes) as a function of population tagging rates and PIT tag array detection probability densities within the river system using a simulation framework. This simulation framework provides both model validation (precision) and the ability to evaluate expected performance improvements (variance) due to changes in tagging rates or PIT receiver array configuration. We also investigate the impact of different network configurations on model estimates. Results from such investigations can help inform decisions regarding future monitoring and management.