, Volume 13, Issue 1, pp 9-52

The Role of Density Regulation in Extinction Processes and Population Viability Analysis

Rent the article at a discount

Rent now

* Final gross prices may vary according to local VAT.

Get Access

Abstract

We review the role of density dependence in the stochastic extinction of populations and the role density dependence has played in population viability analysis (PVA) case studies. In total, 32 approaches have been used to model density regulation in theoretical or applied extinction models, 29 of them are mathematical functions of density dependence, and one approach uses empirical relationships between density and survival, reproduction, or growth rates. In addition, quasi-extinction levels are sometimes applied as a substitute for density dependence at low population size. Density dependence further has been modelled via explicit individual spacing behaviour and/or dispersal. We briefly summarise the features of density dependence available in standard PVA software, provide summary statistics about the use of density dependence in PVA case studies, and discuss the effects of density dependence on extinction probability. The introduction of an upper limit for population size has the effect that the probability of ultimate extinction becomes 1. Mean time to extinction increases with carrying capacity if populations start at high density, but carrying capacity often does not have any effect if populations start at low numbers. In contrast, the Allee effect is usually strong when populations start at low densities but has only a limited influence on persistence when populations start at high numbers. Contrary to previous opinions, other forms of density dependence may lead to increased or decreased persistence, depending on the type and strength of density dependence, the degree of environmental variability, and the growth rate. Furthermore, effects may be reversed for different quasi-extinction levels, making the use of arbitrary quasi-extinction levels problematic. Few systematic comparisons of the effects on persistence between different models of density dependence are available. These effects can be strikingly different among models. Our understanding of the effects of density dependence on extinction of metapopulations is rudimentary, but even opposite effects of density dependence can occur when metapopulations and single populations are contrasted. We argue that spatially explicit models hold particular promise for analysing the effects of density dependence on population viability provided a good knowledge of the biology of the species under consideration exists. Since the results of PVAs may critically depend on the way density dependence is modelled, combined efforts to advance statistical methods, field sampling, and modelling are urgently needed to elucidate the relationships between density, vital rates, and extinction probability.