Although ecology is rife with theory that explores how multiple species co-occur through space and time, the field lacks robust statistical models to parameterize this theory with empirical data, particularly when species are detected imperfectly and data are collected as a time-series.
We address this need by developing an occupancy model that estimates local colonization and extinction rates for two or more interacting species when data are collected across multiple sampling occasions. This model estimates how community composition at a site may change across sampling occasions by assuming the latent occupancy state is a categorical random variable. We used a multinomial‐logit model to parameterize species specific parameters and pairwise interactions between species, both of which can be made a function of covariates. These transition probabilities between community states can then be converted to occupancy or co-occurrence probabilities to determine how community composition varies along an environmental gradient or through time.
As an example, we estimate patterns of co-occurrence between coyote Canis latrans, Virginia opossum Didelphis virginiana, and raccoon Procyon lotor in Chicago, Illinois, USA with data from a multiyear camera trapping study. Models with pairwise interactions between species greatly out performed models that assumed independence between species. Opossum and raccoon, for example, were far less likely to go extinct in habitat patches where coyotes were present.
Community composition at a site depends on species interactions and the local environment. Our model can separate such effects by estimating the underlying processes that define species occurrence patterns. As a result, our model can more explicitly quantify a wide range of ecological dynamics and therefore be used to empirically test ecological theory, such as estimating priority effects at a site or turnover rates between species, both of which can be made to vary as a function of covariates.