Ecologists are increasingly aware of the importance of environmental variability in natural systems. Climate change is affecting both the mean and the variability in weather and, in particular, the effect of changes in variability is poorly understood. Organisms are subject to selection imposed by both the mean and the range of environmental variation experienced by their ancestors. Changes in the variability in a critical environmental factor may therefore have consequences for vital rates and population dynamics. Here, we examine ≥90-year trends in different components of climate (precipitation mean and coefficient of variation (CV); temperature mean, seasonal amplitude and residual variance) and consider the effects of these components on survival and recruitment in a population of Eurasian beavers (n = 242) over 13 recent years. Within climatic data, no trends in precipitation were detected, but trends in all components of temperature were observed, with mean and residual variance increasing and seasonal amplitude decreasing over time. A higher survival rate was linked (in order of influence based on Akaike weights) to lower precipitation CV (kits, juveniles and dominant adults), lower residual variance of temperature (dominant adults) and lower mean precipitation (kits and juveniles). No significant effects were found on the survival of nondominant adults, although the sample size for this category was low. Greater recruitment was linked (in order of influence) to higher seasonal amplitude of temperature, lower mean precipitation, lower residual variance in temperature and higher precipitation CV. Both climate means and variance, thus proved significant to population dynamics; although, overall, components describing variance were more influential than those describing mean values. That environmental variation proves significant to a generalist, wide-ranging species, at the slow end of the slow-fast continuum of life histories, has broad implications for population regulation and the evolution of life histories.
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