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Keywords:

  • climate effects;
  • density dependence;
  • environmental stochasticity;
  • prairie ducks;
  • stochastic population dynamics

Summary

  • 1
    Geographic gradients in population dynamics may occur because of spatial variation in resources that affect the deterministic components of the dynamics (i.e. carrying capacity, the specific growth rate at small densities or the strength of density regulation) or because of spatial variation in the effects of environmental stochasticity. To evaluate these, we used a hierarchical Bayesian approach to estimate parameters characterizing deterministic components and stochastic influences on population dynamics of eight species of ducks (mallard, northern pintail, blue-winged teal, gadwall, northern shoveler, American wigeon, canvasback and redhead (Anas platyrhynchos, A. acuta, A. discors, A. strepera, A. clypeata, A. americana, Aythya valisineria and Ay. americana, respectively) breeding in the North American prairies, and then tested whether these parameters varied latitudinally.
  • 2
    We also examined the influence of temporal variation in the availability of wetlands, spring temperature and winter precipitation on population dynamics to determine whether geographical gradients in population dynamics were related to large-scale variation in environmental effects. Population variability, as measured by the variance of the population fluctuations around the carrying capacity K, decreased with latitude for all species except canvasback. This decrease in population variability was caused by a combination of latitudinal gradients in the strength of density dependence, carrying capacity and process variance, for which details varied by species.
  • 3
    The effects of environmental covariates on population dynamics also varied latitudinally, particularly for mallard, northern pintail and northern shoveler. However, the proportion of the process variance explained by environmental covariates, with the exception of mallard, tended to be small.
  • 4
    Thus, geographical gradients in population dynamics of prairie ducks resulted from latitudinal gradients in both deterministic and stochastic components, and were likely influenced by spatial differences in the distribution of wetland types and shapes, agricultural practices and dispersal processes.
  • 5
    These results suggest that future management of these species could be improved by implementing harvest models that account explicitly for spatial variation in density effects and environmental stochasticity on population abundance.