Synchrony's Double Edge: Transient Dynamics and the Allee Effect in Stage Structured Populations

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Ecology Letters



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In populations subject to positive density dependence, individuals can increase their fitness by synchronizing the timing of key life history events. However, phenological synchrony represents a perturbation from a population's stable stage structure and the ensuing transient dynamics create troughs of low abundance that can promote extinction. Using an ecophysiological model of a mass-attacking pest insect, we show that the effect of synchrony on local population persistence depends on population size and adult lifespan. Results are consistent with a strong empirical pattern of increased extinction risk with decreasing initial population size. Mortality factors such as predation on adults can also affect transient dynamics. Throughout the species range, the seasonal niche for persistence increases with the asynchrony of oviposition. Exposure to the Allee effect after establishment may be most likely at northern range limits, where cold winters tend to synchronize spring colonization, suggesting a role for transient dynamics in the determination of species distributions.