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Oecologia. 2007 May;152(1):57-70. Epub 2006 Dec 12.

Sources of variability in spotted owl population growth rate: testing predictions using long-term mark-recapture data.

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  • 1Department of Fisheries, Wildlife, and Conservation Biology, University of Minnesota, 200 Hodson Hall, 1980 Folwell Avenue, Saint Paul, MN 55108, USA.


For long-lived iteroparous vertebrates that annually produce few young, life history theory predicts that reproductive output (R) and juvenile survival should influence temporal variation in population growth rate (lambda) more than adult survival does. We examined this general prediction using 15 years of mark-recapture data from a population of California spotted owls (Strix occidentalis occidentalis). We found that survival of individuals > or =1 year old (phi) exhibited much less temporal variability (CV = 0.04), where CV is coefficient of variation, than R (CV = 0.83) and that R was strongly influenced by environmental stochasticity. Although lambda was most sensitive (ê; log-transformed sensitivity) to phi (ê = 0.77), and much less sensitive to either R (ê = 0.12) or juvenile survival (survival rate of owls from fledging to 1 year old; ê = 0.12), we estimated that R contributed as much as phi to the observed annual variability in lambda. The contribution of juvenile survival to variability in lambda was proportional to its ê. These results are consistent with the hypothesis that natural selection may have favored the evolution of longevity in spotted owls as a strategy to increase the probability of experiencing favorable years for reproduction. Our finding that annual weather patterns that most affected R (temperature and precipitation during incubation) and phi (conditions during winter related to the Southern Oscillation Index) were equally good at explaining temporal variability in lambda supports the conclusion that R and phi were equally responsible for variability in lambda. Although currently accepted conservation measures for spotted owl populations attempt to enhance survival, our results indicated that conservation measures that target R may be as successful, as long as actions do not reduce phi.

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