Northwest Fisheries Science Center

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Document Type: Journal Article
Center: NWFSC
Document ID: 4482
Title: Complexity is costly: comparing parametric and non-parametric methods for short-term population forecasting
Author: E. J. Ward, E. E. Holmes, James T. Thorson
Publication Year: 2014
Journal: Oikos
Volume: 123
Issue: 6
Pages: 652-661
Keywords: forecasting,prediction,non-parametric,meta-analysis

 Short-term forecasts based on time series of counts or survey data are widely used in population biology to provide advice concerning the management, harvest and conservation of natural populations. A common approach to produce these forecasts uses time-series models, of different types, fit to time series of counts. Similar time-series models are used in many other disciplines, however relative to the data available in these other disciplines, population data are often unusually short and noisy and models that perform well for data from other disciplines may not be appropriate for population data. In order to study the performance of time-series forecasting models for natural animal population data, we assembled 2379 time series of vertebrate population indices from actual surveys. Our data were comprised of three vastly different types: highly variable (marine fish productivity), strongly cyclic (adult salmon counts), and small variance but long-memory (bird and mammal counts). We tested the predictive performance of 49 different forecasting models grouped into three broad classes: autoregressive time-series models, non-linear regression-type models and non-parametric time-series models. Low-dimensional parametric autoregressive models gave the most accurate forecasts across a wide range of taxa; the most accurate model was one that simply treated the most recent observation as the forecast. More complex parametric and non-parametric models performed worse, except when applied to highly cyclic species. Across taxa, certain life history characteristics were correlated with lower forecast error; specifically, we found that better forecasts were correlated with attributes of slow growing species: large maximum age and size for fishes and high trophic level for birds.

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Theme: Recovery, Rebuilding and Sustainability of Marine and Anadromous Species
Foci: Develop methods to use physiological and biological information to predict population-level processes.
Characterize vital rates and other demographic parameters for key species, and develop and improve methods for predicting risk and viability/sustainability from population dynamics and demographic information.