Identifying the demographic determinants of population growth rate: a case study of red-billed choughs Pyrrhocorax pyrrhocorax

Authors

  • J. M. Reid,

    1. Centre for Applied Conservation Research, Forest Sciences, 2424 Main Mall, University of British Columbia, Vancouver BC, Canada V6T 1Z4;
    2. Institute of Biomedical and Life Sciences, Graham Kerr Building, University of Glasgow, Glasgow G12 8QQ, UK;
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    • Present address: Department of Zoology, Downing Street, Cambridge CB2 3EF, UK.

  • E. M. Bignal,

    1. Scottish Chough Study Group, Kindrochaid, Bridgend, Isle of Islay, Argyll, PA44 7PT, UK; and
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  • S. Bignal,

    1. Scottish Chough Study Group, Kindrochaid, Bridgend, Isle of Islay, Argyll, PA44 7PT, UK; and
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  • D. I. McCracken,

    1. Environmental Research Group, Scottish Agricultural College, Auchincruive, Ayr KA6 5HW, UK
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  • P. Monaghan

    Corresponding author
    1. Institute of Biomedical and Life Sciences, Graham Kerr Building, University of Glasgow, Glasgow G12 8QQ, UK;
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Pat Monaghan, Division of Environmental and Evolutionary Biology, Institute of Biomedical and Life Sciences, Graham Kerr Building, University of Glasgow, Glasgow G12 8QQ, UK. E-mail: P.Monaghan@bio.gla.ac.uk

Summary

  • 1Identifying which age-specific demographic rates underlie variation in a population's growth rate (λ) is an important step towards understanding the population's dynamics. Using data from a 20-year study of marked individuals, we describe patterns of demographic variation and covariation in the Scottish red-billed chough population (Pyrrhocorax pyrrhocorax), and investigate which demographic rates have the greatest projected and realized influence on λ.
  • 2Survival, the probability of breeding and breeding success varied with age in this population. Data were sufficient to estimate year-specific probabilities of first-year, second-year and adult (all ages over 2) survival and mean breeding success. A population trajectory modelled using these parameter estimates closely matched census data, suggesting that estimates and simplifying assumptions were sufficient to accurately describe important demographic processes.
  • 3Elasticity analyses based on stage-classes for which year-specific survival was estimable suggested that λ was more elastic to variation in adult survival than first- or second-year survival or breeding success. These ranks were consistent across all 15 years for which λ could be estimated directly, although the elasticity of adult survival declined with population growth.
  • 4Survival and breeding success were positively correlated across years. λ remained most sensitive to adult survival when this demographic covariation was incorporated into elasticity analyses.
  • 5However, elasticities calculated from a fully age-structured model suggested that λ was more elastic to variation in first- and second-year survival than to survival at any individual older age class. These ranks were robust to realistic demographic variation, but sensitive to postulated patterns of demographic covariation. We emphasize that covariation should be measured and incorporated into elasticity analyses, and that estimated elasticities must be interpreted in the context of the way in which stage-classes are defined.
  • 6Of the demographic rates in which we quantified between-year variation, first-year survival varied most, followed by second-year survival, breeding success and adult survival. These rates consequently contributed more equally to variation in λ than elasticities predicted. Overall, variation in λ was caused primarily by variation in survival rather than breeding success, and variation in prebreeding survival accounted for 56% of the total variation in λ.

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