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Am Nat. 2003 Mar;161(3):422-40.

The relative importance of life-history variables to population growth rate in mammals: Cole's prediction revisited.

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Department of Wildlife Ecology and Conservation, University of Florida, Gainesville, Florida 32611-0430, USA.


The relative importance of life-history variables to population growth rate (lambda) has substantial consequences for the study of life-history evolution and for the dynamics of biological populations. Using life-history data for 142 natural populations of mammals, we estimated the elasticity of lambda to changes in age at maturity (alpha), age at last reproduction (omega), juvenile survival (Pj), adult survival (Pa), and fertility (F). Elasticities were then used to quantify the relative importance of alpha, omega, Pj, Pa, and F to lambda and to test theoretical predictions regarding the relative influence on lambda of changes in life-history variables. Neither alpha nor any other single life-history variable had the largest relative influence on lambda in the majority of the populations, and this pattern did not change substantially when effects of phylogeny and body size were statistically removed. Empirical support for theoretical predictions was poor at best. However, analyses of elasticities on the basis of the magnitude (F) and onset (alpha) of reproduction revealed that alpha, followed by F, had the largest relative influence on lambda in populations characterized by early maturity and high reproductive rates, or when F/alpha > 0.60. When maturity was delayed and reproductive rates were low, or when F/alpha < 0.15, survival rates were overwhelmingly most influential, and reproductive parameters (alpha and F) had little relative influence on lambda. Population dynamic consequences of likely responses of biological populations to perturbations in life-history variables are examined, and predictions are made regarding the numerical dynamics of age-structured populations on the basis of values of the F/alpha ratio.

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