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Am Nat. 2002 Apr;159(4):321-37. doi: 10.1086/338988.

Estimating density dependence from population time series using demographic theory and life-history data.

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Department of Biology, University of California at San Diego, La Jolla, California 92093, USA.


For populations with a density-dependent life history reproducing at discrete annual intervals, we analyze small or moderate fluctuations in population size around a stable equilibrium, which is applicable to many vertebrate populations. Using a life history having age at maturity alpha, with stochasticity and density dependence in adult recruitment and mortality, we derive a linearized autoregressive equation with time lags from 1 to alpha yr. Contrary to current interpretations, the coefficients corresponding to different time lags in the autoregressive dynamics are not simply measures of delayed density dependence but also depend on life-history parameters. The theory indicates that the total density dependence in a life history, D, should be defined as the negative elasticity of population growth rate per generation with respect to change in population size, [Formula: see text], where lambda is the asymptotic multiplicative growth rate per year, T is the generation time, and N is adult population size. The total density dependence in the life history, D, can be estimated from the sum of the autoregression coefficients. We estimate D in populations of seven vertebrate species for which life-history studies and unusually long time series of complete population censuses are available. Estimates of D were statistically significant and large, on the order of 1 or higher, indicating strong density dependence in five of the seven species. We also show that life history can explain the qualitative features of population autocorrelation functions and power spectra and observations of increasing empirical variance in population size with increasing length of time series.


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