1. The need to increase our understanding of factors that regulate animal population dynamics has been catalysed by recent, observed declines in wildlife populations worldwide. Reliable estimates of demographic parameters are critical for addressing basic and applied ecological questions and understanding the response of parameters to perturbations (e.g. disease, habitat loss, climate change). However, to fully assess the impact of perturbation on population dynamics, all parameters contributing to the response of the target population must be estimated.
2. We applied the reverse-time model of Pradel in Program mark to 6 years of capture–recapture data from two populations of Anaxyrus boreas (boreal toad) populations, one with disease and one without. We then assessed a priori hypotheses about differences in survival and recruitment relative to local environmental conditions and the presence of disease.
3. We further explored the relative contribution of survival probability and recruitment rate to population growth and investigated how shifts in these parameters can alter population dynamics when a population is perturbed.
4. High recruitment rates (0·41) are probably compensating for low survival probability (range 0·51–0·54) in the population challenged by an emerging pathogen, resulting in a relatively slow rate of decline. In contrast, the population with no evidence of disease had high survival probability (range 0·75–0·78) but lower recruitment rates (0·25).
5.Synthesis and applications. We suggest that the relationship between survival and recruitment may be compensatory, providing evidence that populations challenged with disease are not necessarily doomed to extinction. A better understanding of these interactions may help to explain, and be used to predict, population regulation and persistence for wildlife threatened with disease. Further, reliable estimates of population parameters such as recruitment and survival can guide the formulation and implementation of conservation actions such as repatriations or habitat management aimed to improve recruitment.