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A simple variance formula for population size estimators by conditioning

Böhning, D. (2008) A simple variance formula for population size estimators by conditioning. Statistical Methodology, 5 (5). pp. 410-423. ISSN 1572-3127

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To link to this article DOI: 10.1016/j.stamet.2007.10.001


This note considers the variance estimation for population size estimators based on capture–recapture experiments. Whereas a diversity of estimators of the population size has been suggested, the question of estimating the associated variances is less frequently addressed. This note points out that the technique of conditioning can be applied here successfully which also allows us to identify sources of variation: the variance due to estimation of the model parameters and the binomial variance due to sampling n units from a population of size N. It is applied to estimators typically used in capture–recapture experiments in continuous time including the estimators of Zelterman and Chao and improves upon previously used variance estimators. In addition, knowledge of the variances associated with the estimators by Zelterman and Chao allows the suggestion of a new estimator as the weighted sum of the two. The decomposition of the variance into the two sources allows also a new understanding of how resampling techniques like the Bootstrap could be used appropriately. Finally, the sample size question for capture–recapture experiments is addressed. Since the variance of population size estimators increases with the sample size, it is suggested to use relative measures such as the observed-to-hidden ratio or the completeness of identification proportion for approaching the question of sample size choice.

Item Type:Article
Divisions:Faculty of Science > School of Mathematical and Physical Sciences > Department of Mathematics and Statistics > Applied Statistics
ID Code:9758
Uncontrolled Keywords:Capture-recapture, Population size, Variance estimation, Horvitz–Thompson estimator

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