Population-specific life histories contribute to metapopulation viability

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Restoration efforts can be improved by understanding how variations in life-history traits occur within populations of the same species living in different environments. This can be done by first understanding the demographic responses of natural occurring populations. Population viability analysis continues to be useful to species management and conservation with sensitivity analysis aiding in the understanding of population dynamics. In this study, using life-table response experiments and elasticity analyses, we investigated how population-specific life-history demographic responses contributed to the metapopulation viability of the Federally threatened Pitcher's thistle (Cirsium pitcheri). Specifically, we tested the following hypotheses: (1) Subpopulations occupying different environments within a metapopulation have independent demographic responses and (2) advancing succession results in a shift from a demographic response focused on growth and fecundity to one dominated by stasis. Our results showed that reintroductions had a positive contribution to the metapopulation growth rate as compared to native populations which had a negative contribution. We found no difference in succession on the contribution to metapopulation viability. In addition, we identified distinct population-specific contributions to metapopulation viability and were able to associate specific life-history demographic responses. For example, the positive impact of Miller High Dunes population on the metapopulation growth rate resulted from high growth contributions, whereas increased time of plant in stasis for the State Park Big Blowout population resulted in negative contributions. A greater understanding of how separate populations respond in their corresponding environment may ultimately lead to more effective management strategies aimed at reducing extinction risk. We propose the continued use of sensitivity analyses to evaluate population-specific demographic influences on metapopulation viability. In understanding the underlying causes of the projected extinction probabilities of each population and identifying broad-scale contributions of different populations to the metapopulation, the process of pinpointing target populations is simplified. More detailed analyses can then be applied to the target populations to increase population viability and consequently metapopulation viability. Based on our research, we suggest that the best approach to improve the overall metapopulation viability is to manage the contributions to population growth for each population separately.

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Population-specific life histories contribute to metapopulation viability
Series title Ecosphere
DOI 10.1002/ecs2.1536
Volume 7
Issue 11
Year Published 2016
Language English
Publisher Ecological Society of America
Contributing office(s) Great Lakes Science Center
Description e01536; 13 p.
First page 1
Last page 13
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