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Allee effects in stochastic populations


  • Brian Dennis

B. Dennis, Dept of Fish and Wildlife Resources, Univ. of Idaho, Moscow, ID 83844-1136, USA (


The Allee effect, or inverse density dependence at low population sizes, could seriously impact preservation and management of biological populations. The mounting evidence for widespread Allee effects has lately inspired theoretical studies of how Allee effects alter population dynamics. However, the recent mathematical models of Allee effects have been missing another important force prevalent at low population sizes: stochasticity. In this paper, the combination of Allee effects and stochasticity is studied using diffusion processes, a type of general stochastic population model that accommodates both demographic and environmental stochastic fluctuations. Including an Allee effect in a conventional deterministic population model typically produces an unstable equilibrium at a low population size, a critical population level below which extinction is certain. In a stochastic version of such a model, the probability of reaching a lower size a before reaching an upper size b, when considered as a function of initial population size, has an inflection point at the underlying deterministic unstable equilibrium. The inflection point represents a threshold in the probabilistic prospects for the population and is independent of the type of stochastic fluctuations in the model. In particular, models containing demographic noise alone (absent Allee effects) do not display this threshold behavior, even though demographic noise is considered an “extinction vortex”. The results in this paper provide a new understanding of the interplay of stochastic and deterministic forces in ecological populations.