Semi-Markov Arnason-Schwarz models

Ruth King, Roland Langrock

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


We consider multi-state capture–recapture–recovery data where observed individuals are recorded in a set of possible discrete states. Traditionally, the Arnason–Schwarz model has been fitted to such data where the state process is modeled as a first-order Markov chain, though second-order models have also been proposed and fitted to data. However, low-order Markov models may not accurately represent the underlying biology. For example, specifying a (time-independent) first-order Markov process involves the assumption that the dwell time in each state (i.e., the duration of a stay in a given state) has a geometric distribution, and hence that the modal dwell time is one. Specifying time-dependent or higher-order processes provides additional flexibility, but at the expense of a potentially significant number of additional model parameters. We extend the Arnason–Schwarz model by specifying a semi-Markov model for the state process, where the dwell-time distribution is specified more generally, using, for example, a shifted Poisson or negative binomial distribution. A state expansion technique is applied in order to represent the resulting semi-Markov Arnason–Schwarz model in terms of a simpler and computationally tractable hidden Markov model. Semi-Markov Arnason–Schwarz models come with only a very modest increase in the number of parameters, yet permit a significantly more flexible state process. Model selection can be performed using standard procedures, and in particular via the use of information criteria. The semi-Markov approach allows for important biological inference to be drawn on the underlying state process, for example, on the times spent in the different states. The feasibility of the approach is demonstrated in a simulation study, before being applied to real data corresponding to house finches where the states correspond to the presence or absence of conjunctivitis.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)619-628
Issue number2
Early online date19 Nov 2015
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2016


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