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Am Nat. 2013 Mar;181(3):410-20. doi: 10.1086/669155. Epub 2013 Jan 18.

Contributions of covariance: decomposing the components of stochastic population growth in Cypripedium calceolus.

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  • 1Department of Biology, Stanford University, Stanford, CA, USA. davison@demogr.mpg.de


Although correlations between vital rates can have important effects on evolution and demography, few studies have investigated their effects on population dynamics. Here, we extend life-table response experiments (LTREs) to variable environments, showing how to quantify contributions made by (1) mean vital rates, (2) variability driven by environmental fluctuations, (3) correlations implying demographic trade-offs and reflecting stage transition synchrony, and (4) elasticities reflecting local selection pressures. Applying our methods to the lady's slipper orchid Cypripedium calceolus, we found that mean rates accounted for 77.1% of all effects on the stochastic growth rate, variability accounted for 12.6%, elasticities accounted for 6.6%, and correlations accounted for 3.7%. Stochastic effects accounted for 17.6%, 15.3%, and 35.9% of the total in our three populations. Larger elasticities to transitions between dormancy states and stronger correlations between emergence and survival suggest that one population was under greater pressure to remain active while the other two showed survival payoffs for dormancy in poor years. Strong negative correlations between dormancy, emergence, and stasis balanced opposing contributions, resulting in near stationarity in two populations. These new methods provide an additional tool for researchers investigating stochastic population dynamics and should be useful for a broad range of applications in basic ecology and conservation biology.

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