Environmentally sensitive life-cycle traits have low elasticity: Implications for theory and practice

Valery E. Forbes, Mette Olsen, Annemette Palmqvist, Peter Calow

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

39 Scopus citations


The relationships between population growth rate and the life-cycle traits contributing to it are nonlinear and variable. This has made it difficult for ecologists to consistently predict changes in population dynamics from observations on changes in life-cycle traits. We show that traits having a high sensitivity to chemical toxicants tend to have a low elasticity, meaning that changes in them have a relatively low impact on population growth rate, compared to other life-cycle traits. This makes evolutionary sense in that there should be selection against variability in population growth rate. In particular, we found that fecundity was generally more sensitive to chemical stress than was juvenile or adult survival or time to first reproduction, whereas fecundity typically had a lower elasticity than the other life-cycle traits. Similar relationships have been recorded in field populations for a wide range of taxa, but the conclusions were necessarily more tentative because stochastic effects and confounding variables could not be excluded. Better knowledge of these relationships can be used to optimize population management and protection strategies and to increase understanding of the drivers of population dynamics.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1449-1455
Number of pages7
JournalEcological Applications
Issue number5
StatePublished - Jul 2010


  • Chemical stress
  • Daphnia magna
  • Elasticity
  • Lowest observed effective concentration
  • Matrix population model
  • Population dynamics
  • Sensitivity


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