Understanding the demographic drivers of realized population growth rates:

David N. Koons, Todd W. Arnold, Michael Schaub

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

70 Scopus citations


Identifying the demographic parameters (e.g., reproduction, survival, dispersal) that most influence population dynamics can increase conservation effectiveness and enhance ecological understanding. Life table response experiments (LTRE) aim to decompose the effects of change in parameters on past demographic outcomes (e.g., population growth rates). But the vast majority of LTREs and other retrospective population analyses have focused on decomposing asymptotic population growth rates, which do not account for the dynamic interplay between population structure and vital rates that shape realized population growth rates (λt=Nt+1/Nt) in time-varying environments. We provide an empirical means to overcome these shortcomings by merging recently developed "transient life-table response experiments" with integrated population models (IPMs). IPMs allow for the estimation of latent population structure and other demographic parameters that are required for transient LTRE analysis, and Bayesian versions additionally allow for complete error propagation from the estimation of demographic parameters to derivations of realized population growth rates and perturbation analyses of growth rates. By integrating available monitoring data for Lesser Scaup over 60 yr, and conducting transient LTREs on IPM estimates, we found that the contribution of juvenile female survival to long-term variation in realized population growth rates was 1.6 and 3.7 times larger than that of adult female survival and fecundity, respectively. But a persistent long-term decline in fecundity explained 92% of the decline in abundance between 1983 and 2006. In contrast, an improvement in adult female survival drove the modest recovery in Lesser Scaup abundance since 2006, indicating that the most important demographic drivers of Lesser Scaup population dynamics are temporally dynamic. In addition to resolving uncertainty about Lesser Scaup population dynamics, the merger of IPMs with transient LTREs will strengthen our understanding of demography for many species as we aim to conserve biodiversity during an era of non-stationary global change.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2102-2115
Number of pages14
JournalEcological Applications
Issue number7
StatePublished - Oct 2017

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2017 by the Ecological Society of America.


  • Aythya affinis
  • Bayesian analysis
  • age structure
  • global change
  • hierarchical model
  • integrated population model
  • matrix projection model
  • non-stationary environments
  • perturbation analysis
  • state-space models


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