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Theor Popul Biol. 2003 Nov;64(3):303-14.

Establishment success and extinction risk in autocorrelated environments.

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Institute of Biology, Leiden University, Kaiserstraat 63, NL-2311 GP, Leiden, Netherlands.


We consider establishment success (and extinction risk of small populations) in fluctuating environments, by means of an inhomogeneous branching process model. In this model it is assumed that individuals reproduce asexually during discrete reproduction periods. Within each period individuals reproduce independently and have random numbers of offspring. Expected numbers of offspring vary over reproduction periods due to random environmental changes. Previous simulation results indicated that there is a positive autocorrelation between the establishment probabilities of invaders in successive reproduction periods when environmental states are independently distributed. This result was never formally proved. In this paper we prove that this is indeed true, regardless of the form of the distribution of environmental states or the offspring distribution (under a monotonicity condition, which holds for biologically realistic models). Furthermore, we prove that it is also true for positively autocorrelated environmental states. We show by a counterexample that in environments with a strong negative autocorrelation establishment probabilities can be negatively autocorrelated. This was further examined through simulations. Our results imply that in independent, positively autocorrelated and weakly negatively autocorrelated environments the probability of success of invasion in different independently varying sites is the highest, followed by sequential invasion. For environments with a strong negative autocorrelation, sequential invasion has the highest probability of success. Effects of autocorrelation were further examined with simulations. From the results it appears that the expected length of 'runs of bad luck' is the most crucial factor for establishment success.

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