We use a spatio-temporal Markov process to model the spread of an ecological population through its environment over time. Available habitat is divided into sites, and a parametric function of spatial variables is used to model the probability that one site is colonized from another. This allows us both to make predictions about the future spread of a population, and to determine which are the important factors governing colonizations. The model evolves in discrete time, allowing the population distribution to change seasonally in accordance with breeding patterns. Discrete time formulations are natural for ecological populations, but are problematic due to difficulties of fitting and predicting over irregular time intervals. The model described here can accommodate years of missing data and can therefore fit and predict at irregular intervals. Two methods of approximating the likelihood are described and applied to ornithological survey data for the woodlark, Lullula arborea, from Thetford Forest in the UK.
Key words: Colonization model; Discrete time Markov model; Monte Carlo likelihood; Multi-site model; Multi-type branching process; Space-time model.