ABSTRACT: Studies on small and declining populations dominate research in conservation biology. This emphasis reflects two overarching frameworks: the small-population paradigm focuses on correlates of increased extinction probability; the declining-population paradigm directs attention to the causes and consequences of depletion. Neither, however, particularly informs research on the determinants, rate or uncertainty of population increase. By contrast, Allee effects (positive associations between population size and realized per capita population growth rate, r(realized), a metric of average individual fitness) offer a theoretical and empirical basis for identifying numerical and temporal thresholds at which recovery is unlikely or uncertain. Following a critique of studies on Allee effects, I quantify population-size minima and subsequent trajectories of marine fishes that have and have not recovered following threat mitigation. The data suggest that threat amelioration, albeit necessary, can be insufficient to effect recovery for populations depleted to less than 10% of maximum abundance (N(max)), especially when they remain depleted for lengthy periods of time. Comparing terrestrial and aquatic vertebrates, life-history analyses suggest that population-size thresholds for impaired recovery are likely to be comparatively low for marine fishes but high for marine mammals.Articulation of a 'recovering population paradigm' would seem warranted. It might stimulate concerted efforts to identify generic impaired recovery thresholds across species. It might also serve to reduce the confusion of terminology, and the conflation of causes and consequences with patterns currently evident in the literature on Allee effects, thus strengthening communication among researchers and enhancing the practical utility of recovery-oriented research to conservation practitioners and resource managers.
Project description:The demographic Allee effect, or depensation, implies positive association between per capita population growth rate and population size at low abundances, thereby lowering growth ability of sparse populations. This can have far-reaching consequences on population recovery ability and colonization success. In the context of marine fishes, there is a widespread perception that Allee effects are rare or non-existent. However, studies that have failed to detect Allee effects in marine fishes have suffered from several fundamental methodological and data limitations. In the present study, we challenge the prevailing perception about the rarity of Allee effects by analysing nine populations of Atlantic herring (Clupea harengus), using Bayesian statistical methods. We find that populations of the same species can show either strong evidence for Allee effects or compensation. We explicitly demonstrate how the evidence for Allee effects is strongly provisional on observations made at low population abundances. We contrast our statistical approach with previous attempts to detect Allee effects and illustrate methodological issues that can lead to erroneous conclusions about the nature of population dynamics at low abundance. The present study demonstrates that there is no substantive scientific basis to support the perception that Allee effects are rare or non-existent in marine fishes.
Project description:Negative density-dependent regulation of population dynamics promotes population growth at low abundance and is therefore vital for recovery following depletion. Inversely, any process that reduces the compensatory density-dependence of population growth can negatively affect recovery. Here, we show that increased adult mortality at low abundance can reverse compensatory population dynamics into its opposite-a demographic Allee effect. Northwest Atlantic cod (Gadus morhua) stocks collapsed dramatically in the early 1990s and have since shown little sign of recovery. Many experienced dramatic increases in natural mortality, ostensibly attributable in some populations to increased predation by seals. Our findings show that increased natural mortality of a magnitude observed for overfished cod stocks has been more than sufficient to fundamentally alter the dynamics of density-dependent population regulation. The demographic Allee effect generated by these changes can slow down or even impede the recovery of depleted populations even in the absence of fishing.
Project description:Allee effects are an important component in the population dynamics of numerous species. Accounting for these Allee effects in population viability analyses generally requires estimates of low-density population growth rates, but such data are unavailable for most species and particularly difficult to obtain for large mammals. Here, we present a mechanistic modeling framework that allows estimating the expected low-density growth rates under a mate-finding Allee effect before the Allee effect occurs or can be observed. The approach relies on representing the mechanisms causing the Allee effect in a process-based model, which can be parameterized and validated from data on the mechanisms rather than data on population growth. We illustrate the approach using polar bears (Ursus maritimus), and estimate their expected low-density growth by linking a mating dynamics model to a matrix projection model. The Allee threshold, defined as the population density below which growth becomes negative, is shown to depend on age-structure, sex ratio, and the life history parameters determining reproduction and survival. The Allee threshold is thus both density- and frequency-dependent. Sensitivity analyses of the Allee threshold show that different combinations of the parameters determining reproduction and survival can lead to differing Allee thresholds, even if these differing combinations imply the same stable-stage population growth rate. The approach further shows how mate-limitation can induce long transient dynamics, even in populations that eventually grow to carrying capacity. Applying the models to the overharvested low-density polar bear population of Viscount Melville Sound, Canada, shows that a mate-finding Allee effect is a plausible mechanism for slow recovery of this population. Our approach is generalizable to any mating system and life cycle, and could aid proactive management and conservation strategies, for example, by providing a priori estimates of minimum conservation targets for rare species or minimum eradication targets for pests and invasive species.
Project description:Uncertainty in risks posed by emerging stressors such as synthetic hormones impedes conservation efforts for threatened vertebrate populations. Synthetic hormones often induce sex-biased perturbations in exposed animals by disrupting gonad development and early life-history stage transitions, potentially diminishing per capita reproductive output of depleted populations and, in turn, being manifest as Allee effects. We use a spatially explicit biophysical model to evaluate how sex-biased perturbation in life-history traits of individuals (maternal investment in egg production and male-skewed sex allocation in offspring) modulates density feedback control of year-class strength and recovery trajectories of a long-lived, migratory fish-shovelnose sturgeon (Scaphirhynchus platorynchus)-under spatially and temporally dynamic synthetic androgen exposure and habitat conditions. Simulations show that reduced efficiency of maternal investment in gonad development prolonged maturation time, increased the probability of skipped spawning, and, in turn, shrunk spawner abundance, weakening year-class strength. However, positive density feedback disappeared (no Allee effect) once the exposure ceased. By contrast, responses to the demographic perturbation manifested as strong positive density feedback; an abrupt shift in year-class strength and spawner abundance followed after more than two decades owing to persistent negative population growth (a strong Allee effect), reaching an alternative state without any sign of recovery. When combined with the energetic perturbation, positive density feedback of the demographic perturbation was dampened as extended maturation time reduced the frequency of producing male-biased offspring, allowing the population to maintain positive growth rate (a weak Allee effect) and gradually recover. The emergent patterns in long-term population projections illustrate that sex-biased perturbation in life-history traits can interactively regulate the strength of density feedback in depleted populations such as Scaphirhynchus sturgeon to further diminish reproductive capacity and abundance, posing increasingly greater conservation challenges in chemically altered riverscapes.
Project description:Allee effects may render exploited animal populations extinction prone, but empirical data are often lacking to describe the circumstances leading to an Allee effect. Arbitrary assumptions regarding Allee effects could lead to erroneous management decisions so that predictive modelling approaches are needed that identify the circumstances leading to an Allee effect before such a scenario occurs. We present a predictive approach of Allee effects for polar bears where low population densities, an unpredictable habitat and harvest-depleted male populations result in infrequent mating encounters. We develop a mechanistic model for the polar bear mating system that predicts the proportion of fertilized females at the end of the mating season given population density and operational sex ratio. The model is parametrized using pairing data from Lancaster Sound, Canada, and describes the observed pairing dynamics well. Female mating success is shown to be a nonlinear function of the operational sex ratio, so that a sudden and rapid reproductive collapse could occur if males are severely depleted. The operational sex ratio where an Allee effect is expected is dependent on population density. We focus on the prediction of Allee effects in polar bears but our approach is also applicable to other species.
Project description:Effective management of wetland quantity and quality is crucial for effective conservation of declining amphibian populations. In particular, frogs and toads that employ aggregative breeding strategies may suffer negative population impacts in response to changes in availability of aquatic breeding habitat, including overabundance of suitable habitat, if density of conspecifics attending aggregations is positively correlated with reproductive success. Here we document such a positive relationship, potentially the first example of a component Allee effect in an anuran, in the critically endangered Houston toad (Bufo houstonensis). We assessed the relationship between mean yearly chorus size and reproductive success of males at the pond level using an information theoretic model selection approach and a two-sample t-test. The chosen model contained the single variable of mean yearly chorus size to predict probability of reproduction, as selected using the Akaike Information Criterion corrected for small sample size and Akaike weight. Mean chorus sizes were significantly higher among ponds exhibiting evidence of reproduction than in those that showed no evidence of reproduction. Our results suggest that chorusing alone is a poor proxy for inference of population stability and highlight a need for reassessment of widely-used amphibian monitoring protocols. Further, amphibian conservation efforts should account for potential Allee effects in order to optimize benefits and avoid underestimating critical population thresholds, particularly in species exhibiting rapid population declines.
Project description:Recovering populations of carnivores suffering Allee effects risk extinction because positive population growth requires a minimum number of cooperating individuals. Conservationists seldom consider these issues in planning for carnivore recovery because of data limitations, but ignoring Allee effects could lead to overly optimistic predictions for growth and underestimates of extinction risk. We used Bayesian splines to document a demographic Allee effect in the time series of gray wolf (Canis lupus) population counts (1980-2011) in the southern Lake Superior region (SLS, Wisconsin and the upper peninsula of Michigan, USA) in each of four measures of population growth. We estimated that the population crossed the Allee threshold at roughly 20 wolves in four to five packs. Maximum per-capita population growth occurred in the mid-1990s when there were approximately 135 wolves in the SLS population. To infer mechanisms behind the demographic Allee effect, we evaluated a potential component Allee effect using an individual-based spatially explicit model for gray wolves in the SLS region. Our simulations varied the perception neighborhoods for mate-finding and the mean dispersal distances of wolves. Simulation of wolves with long-distance dispersals and reduced perception neighborhoods were most likely to go extinct or experience Allee effects. These phenomena likely restricted population growth in early years of SLS wolf population recovery.
Project description:Twenty-first century conservation is centered on negotiating trade-offs between the diverse needs of people and the needs of the other species constituting coupled human-natural ecosystems. Marine forage fishes, such as sardines, anchovies, and herring, are a nexus for such trade-offs because they are both central nodes in marine food webs and targeted by fisheries. An important example is Pacific herring, Clupea pallisii in the Northeast Pacific. Herring populations are subject to two distinct fisheries: one that harvests adults and one that harvests spawned eggs. We develop stochastic, age-structured models to assess the interaction between fisheries, herring populations, and the persistence of predators reliant on herring populations. We show that egg- and adult-fishing have asymmetric effects on herring population dynamics--herring stocks can withstand higher levels of egg harvest before becoming depleted. Second, ecosystem thresholds proposed to ensure the persistence of herring predators do not necessarily pose more stringent constraints on fisheries than conventional, fishery driven harvest guidelines. Our approach provides a general template to evaluate ecosystem trade-offs between stage-specific harvest practices in relation to environmental variability, the risk of fishery closures, and the risk of exceeding ecosystem thresholds intended to ensure conservation goals are met.
Project description:Organochlorine (OC) pesticides and the more persistent polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) have well-established dose-dependent toxicities to birds, fish and mammals in experimental studies, but the actual impact of OC pollutants on European marine top predators remains unknown. Here we show that several cetacean species have very high mean blubber PCB concentrations likely to cause population declines and suppress population recovery. In a large pan-European meta-analysis of stranded (n?=?929) or biopsied (n?=?152) cetaceans, three out of four species:- striped dolphins (SDs), bottlenose dolphins (BNDs) and killer whales (KWs) had mean PCB levels that markedly exceeded all known marine mammal PCB toxicity thresholds. Some locations (e.g. western Mediterranean Sea, south-west Iberian Peninsula) are global PCB "hotspots" for marine mammals. Blubber PCB concentrations initially declined following a mid-1980s EU ban, but have since stabilised in UK harbour porpoises and SDs in the western Mediterranean Sea. Some small or declining populations of BNDs and KWs in the NE Atlantic were associated with low recruitment, consistent with PCB-induced reproductive toxicity. Despite regulations and mitigation measures to reduce PCB pollution, their biomagnification in marine food webs continues to cause severe impacts among cetacean top predators in European seas.
Project description:Context:Effective landscape control of invasive species is context-dependent due to the interplay between the landscape structure, local population dynamics, and metapopulation processes. We use a modelling approach incorporating these three elements to explore the drivers of recovery of populations of invasive species after control. Objectives:We aim to improve our understanding of the factors influencing the landscape-level control of invasive species. Methods:We focus on the case study of invasive brushtail possum (Trichosurus vulpecula) control in New Zealand. We assess how 13 covariates describing the landscape, patch, and population features influence the time of population recovery to a management density threshold of two possums/ha. We demonstrate the effects of those covariates on population recovery under three scenarios of population growth: logistic growth, strong Allee effects, and weak Allee effects. Results:Recovery times were rapid regardless of the simulated population dynamics (average recovery time < 2 years), although populations experiencing Allee effects took longer to recover than those growing logistically. Our results indicate that habitat availability and patch area play a key role in reducing times to recovery after control, and this relationship is consistent across the three simulated scenarios. Conclusions:The control of invasive possum populations in patchy landscapes would benefit from a patch-level management approach (considering each patch as an independent management unit), whereas simple landscapes would be better controlled by taking a landscape-level view (the landscape as the management unit). Future research should test the predictions of our models with empirical data to refine control operations.