Individual heterogeneity and capture-recapture models: what, why and how?

7 September 2017

Gimenez, Olivier; Emmanuelle, Cam ; Gaillard, Jean-Michel

Variation between and within individuals in life history traits is ubiquitous in natural populations. When affecting fitness-related traits such as survival or reproduction, individual heterogeneity plays a key role in population dynamics and life history evolution. However, it is only recently that properly accounting for individual heterogeneity when studying population dynamics of free-ranging populations has been made possible through the development of appropriate statistical models. We aim here to review case studies of individual heterogeneity in the context of capture-recapture models for the estimation of population size and demographic parameters with imperfect detection. First, we define what individual heterogeneity means and clarify the terminology used in the literature. Second, we review the literature and illustrate why individual heterogeneity is used in capture-recapture studies by focusing on the detection of life-history trade-offs, including senescence. Third, we explain how to model individual heterogeneity in capture-recapture models and provide the code to fit these models ( The distinction is made between situations in which heterogeneity is actually measured and situations in which part of the heterogeneity remains unobserved. Regarding the latter, we outline recent developments of random-effect models and finite-mixture models. Finally, we discuss several avenues for future research.