Chappelle, George; Alan Hastings and Martin Rasmussen

During their lifetimes, individuals in populations pass through different states, and the notion of an occupancy time describes the amount of time an individual spends in a given set of states. Questions related to this idea were studied in a recent paper by Roth and Caswell for cases where the environmental conditions are constant. However, it is truly important to consider the case where environments are changing randomly or in directional way through time, so the transition probabilities between different states change over time, motivating the use of time-dependent stage-structured models. Using absorbing inhomogenous Markov chains and the discrete-time McKendrick-von Foerster equation, we derive explicit formulas for the occupancy time, its expectation, and its higher-order moments for stage-structured models with time-dependent transition rates. The results provide insights into the dynamics of long lived plant or animal populations where individuals transition in both directions between reproductive and non reproductive stages. We apply our approach to study a specific time-dependent model of the Southern Fulmar, and obtain insights into how the number of breeding attempts depends on external conditions that vary through time.