Stage, age and individual stochasticity in demography


  • Hal Caswell

Hal Caswell (, Biology Dept MS-34, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Woods Hole, MA 02543, USA, and: Max Planck Inst. for Demographic Research, Rostock, Germany.


Demography is the study of the population consequences of the fates of individuals. Individuals are differentiated on the basis of age or, in general, life cycle stages. The movement of an individual through its life cycle is a random process, and although the eventual destination (death) is certain, the pathways taken to that destination are stochastic and will differ even between identical individuals; this is individual stochasticity. A stage-classified demographic model contains implicit age-specific information, which can be analyzed using Markov chain methods. The living stages in the life cycles are transient states in an absorbing Markov chain; death is an absorbing state. This paper presents Markov chain methods for computing the mean and variance of the lifetime number of visits to any transient state, the mean and variance of longevity, the net reproductive rate R0, and the cohort generation time. It presents the matrix calculus methods needed to calculate the sensitivity and elasticity of all these indices to any life history parameters. These sensitivities have many uses, including calculation of selection gradients. It is shown that the use of R0 as a measure of fitness or an invasion exponent gives erroneous results except when R0=λ=1. The Markov chain approach is then generalized to variable environments (deterministic environmental sequences, periodic environments, iid random environments, Markovian environments). Variable environments are analyzed using the vec-permutation method to create a model that classifies individuals jointly by the stage and environmental condition. Throughout, examples are presented using the North Atlantic right whale (Eubaleana glacialis) and an endangered prairie plant (Lomatium bradshawii) in a stochastic fire environment.