Seeing the trees for the wood: random walks or bounded fluctuations of population size?
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- den Boer, P.J. Oecologia (1991) 86: 484. doi:10.1007/BF00318314
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It is often claimed that the fluctuation of numbers in field populations is fundamentally different from random walks of densities, in that population size is kept between certain positive limits. To test this hypothesis patterns of fluctuation in field populations were compared with random walks of density of about the same duration. It was found that the boundaries (Log-Range) between which numbers fluctuate in field populations increase with time to about the same extent as in comparable random walks of density. Moreover, deviations of the trend of numbers over years (Average lnR) from zero trend in populations of 62 (carabid) species were just those expected for simulated random walk runs, with the median value of Var(lnR), and different values for mean population size that cover the possible range of “survival times” for these species. This means that the null hypothesis that in the field numbers would fluctuate as random walks of densities could not be rejected. Although it is not very probable that field populations fluctuate exactly like random walks of densities, random walk models appear to mimic the fluctuation patterns of field populations sufficiently closely to explain what happens in nature, and to deny the need for regulation. The same conclusion was drawn in earlier studies where statistical tests were applied to fluctuation patterns of field populations (Den Boer and Reddingius 1989; Den Boer 1990a). Random walks of densities do not exclude the possibility that local populations can persist for some centuries.