Evaluation of alternate harvesting strategies using experimental microcosms


  • J. M. Fryxell,

  • I. M. Smith,

  • D. H. Lynn

J. M. Fryxell, I. M. Smith and D. H. Lynn, Dept of Integrative Biology, Univ. of Guelph, 50 Stone Rd. E., Guelph, Ontario, Canada, N1G 2W1 (jfryxell@uoguelph.ca).


Experimental evidence to evaluate alternate conservation policies for harvested populations is currently meager. We used populations of the ciliate Tetrahymena thermophila growing in test tube microcosms to experimentally evaluate the effects of alternate harvesting policies in a controlled, replicable setting. Simple density-dependent models were effective in predicting patterns of ciliate population growth in the microcosms. We evaluated several univariate models, finding that a Ricker logistic model was a better predictor of ciliate population dynamics than Gompertz logistic, non-linear logistic, or random walk models. Using the Ricker logistic model as a demographic skeleton, we modeled ciliate population dynamics with respect to three alternate harvesting policies (fixed quota, fixed proportion, and fixed escapement), each conducted at four comparable levels of harvest intensity. The parameterized demographic models predicted that fixed quota harvesting would lead to lower mean ciliate abundance and higher temporal variability in ciliate abundance than fixed proportion or fixed escapement policies, with an appreciable risk of extinction, even under the controlled environmental conditions of our experimental system. For each harvesting policy, the intensity of harvest had demonstrable effects on population density. Population variability was higher for fixed quota harvesting than the other policies. The stochastic demographic model successfully predicted heightened extinction risk in the fixed quota system, relative to the other management treatments. Our experimental evidence lends support to the theoretical prediction that fixed quota harvesting is riskier than fixed proportion or fixed escapement policies.