When is it meaningful to estimate an extinction probability?

John Fieberg, Stephen P. Ellner

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

164 Scopus citations


Recently Don Ludwig has shown that calculations of extinction probabilities based on currently available data are often meaningless due to the large uncertainty accompanying the estimates. Here we address two questions posed by his findings. Can one ever calculate extinction probabilities accurately? If so, how much data would be necessary? Our analysis indicates that reliable predictions of long-term extinction probabilities are likely to require unattainable amounts of data. Analytic calculations based on diffusion approximations indicate that reliable predictions of extinction probabilities can be made only for short-term time horizons (10% to 20% as long as the period over which the population has been monitored). Simulation results for unstructured and structured populations (three stage classes) agree with these calculations.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2040-2047
Number of pages8
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jul 2000


  • Conservation
  • Data requirements
  • Diffusion approximation
  • Extinction
  • Population viability
  • Stochastic matrix models
  • Uncertainty


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