Transient population dynamics:relations to life history and initial population state

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Ecological Modelling



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Most environments are variable and disturbances (e.g., hurricanes, fires) can lead to substantial changes in a population's state (i.e., age, stage, or size distribution). In these situations, the long-term (i.e., asymptotic) measure of population growth rate (λ1) may inaccurately represent population growth in the short-term. Thus, we calculated the short-term (i.e., transient) population growth rate and its sensitivity to changes in the life-cycle parameters for three bird and three mammal species with widely varying life histories. Further, we performed these calculations for initial population states that spanned the entire range of possibilities. Variation in a population's initial net reproductive value largely explained the variation in transient growth rates and their sensitivities to changes in life-cycle parameters (all AICc ≥ 6.67 units better than the null model, all R2 ≥ 0.55). Additionally, the transient fertility and adult survival sensitivities tended to increase with the initial net reproductive value of the population, whereas the sub-adult survival sensitivity decreased. Transient population dynamics of long-lived, slow reproducing species were more variable and more different than asymptotic dynamics than they were for short-lived, fast reproducing species. Because λ1 can be a biased estimate of the actual growth rate in the short-term (e.g., 19% difference), conservation and wildlife biologists should consider transient dynamics when developing management plans that could affect a population's state, or whenever population state could be unstable.