Date of Award:


Document Type:


Degree Name:

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



Committee Chair(s)

David N. Koons


David N. Koons


Christa P. H. Mulder


Karen Beard


Dan McNulty


Joe Wheaton


Anthropogenic pressures have caused changes in both the mean and variance of environmental conditions, with associated effects on the demography of natural populations. The demographic effects of environmental change can manifest through direct (i.e., physiological) or indirect pathways (i.e., through shifts in species interactions). For many populations, environmental change will affect multiple life cycle stages simultaneously, thereby altering vital rate correlation structures with potentially important impacts on evolutionary fitness. The effects of environmental change will also often be habitat-specific, particularly when species interactions modify demographic sensitivity to climate. As a result, the effects of climate change are likely to vary across a species range, with important implications for range expansion and population viability.

In chapter 2, I examine the effects of joint vital rate responses to environmental drivers on the evolution of life histories in variable environments. I show that vital rate covariation, generated when multiple vital rates respond to a shared environmental driver, can fundamentally alter evolutionary selection pressures. Negative vital rate covariation promotes the evolution of demographic lability (stronger demographic responsiveness), while positive covariation promotes buffering (weaker demographic responsiveness), altering the range of life histories over which the evolution of buffered and labile vital rates are a predicted evolutionary outcome. By identifying the life histories for which selection pressures are most sensitive to environmentally-driven vital rate covariation, this study provides a richer understanding of both life history evolution and the capacity of species to cope with ongoing changes to contemporary environments.

In chapter 3, I use a long-term study of lesser snow geese to test the hypothesis that demographic and developmental responses to climate will be weakest in habitats where resource diversity is greatest. I find support for this hypothesis, and my results indicate that gosling demography is much more responsive to climate in recently colonized, freshwater habitats where landscape diversity and gosling diet diversity is low. These results underscore the potential importance of accounting for biotic interactions when predicting spatio-temporal responses to climate.

In chapter 4, I quantify the consequences of observed climate change for lesser snow goose population dynamics across habitats. I find that climate change increases population growth in all habitats, but that such increases are disproportionately large in novel inland freshwater habitats. These results suggest that in a warmer and more variable climate, the breeding range and population growth of lesser snow geese is likely to increase, counteracting current management efforts to reduce overabundant populations.