Exploring Population Responses to Environmental Change When There’s Never Enough Data

Post provided by Bethan Hindle

Understanding Population Responses to Environmental Change

Rapid climatic change has increased interest about how populations respond to environmental change. This has broad applications, for example in the management of endangered and economically important species, the control of harmful species, and the spread of disease. At the population level changes in abundance are driven by changes in vital rates, such as survival and fecundity. So studies that track individual survival and reproduction over time can provide useful insights into the drivers of such changes. They allow us to make future population level predictions on things like abundance, extinction risk and evolutionary strategies.

Archbold Biological Station - site of numerous long-term demographic studies, including that of Eryngium cuneifolium used in this paper. ©Reed Bowman

Archbold Biological Station – site of numerous long-term demographic studies, including that of Eryngium cuneifolium used in this paper. ©Reed Bowman

Predicting the future isn’t a simple task though. Anyone whose washing has got soaked through after the weather forecast suggested the day would be dry and sunny will know that (though the accuracy of short term weather forecasts has increased dramatically in recent years). Ideally, if we want to predict what will happen to populations as their environment changes, we would identify the drivers of variation in their survival and reproduction. We do this by asking questions like ‘are years of low survival associated with high rainfall?’ But, this is not a simple task; identifying drivers and the time periods over which they act and accurately estimating their effects requires long-term demographic data.   Continue reading

New associate editor

Methods is pleased to announce that Nick Isaac has become the newest member of its editorial board, taking up the role of Associate Editor. Nick is a macroecologist at the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology interested in questions about the abundance, distributions, diversity and extinction risk of species:

My research generally involves data that are structured in space, time and/or phylogenetically. I started out using the traditional approach in macroecology of ‘one value per species’, but increasingly I use multilevel models to explore patterns along multiple axes (space, time, species) and at a range of scales. Much of my work has involved developing new methods and/or comparing their statistical properties with existing approaches. Historically I used data on mammals and other vertebrates, but these days I work mostly on insects.

Welcome on board Nick!