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Am Nat. 1998 May;151(5):441-50. doi: 10.1086/286131.

Environmental stochasticity and extinction risk in a population of a small songbird, the great tit.

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  • 1Department of Zoology, Norwegian University of Science and Technology, N-7034 Trondheim, Norway.


Using a long-term demographic data set, we estimated the separate effects of demographic and environmental stochasticity in the growth rate of the great tit population in Wytham Wood, United Kingdom. Assuming logistic density regulation, both the demographic (sigma2d = 0.569) and environmental (sigma2e = 0.0793) variance, with interactions included, were significantly greater than zero. The estimates of the demographic variance seemed to be relatively insensitive to the length of the study period, whereas reliable estimates of the environmental variance required long time series (at least 15 yr of data). The demographic variance decreased significantly with increasing population density. These estimates are used in a quantitative analysis of the demographic factors affecting the risk of extinction of this population. The very long expected time to extinction of this population (approximately 10(19) yr) was related to a relatively large population size (>/=120 pairs during the study period). However, for a given population size, the expected time to extinction was sensitive to both variation in population growth rate and environmental stochasticity. Furthermore, the form of the density regulation strongly affected the expected time to extinction. Time to extinction decreased when the maximum density regulation approached K. This suggests that estimates of viability of small populations should be given both with and without inclusion of density dependence.

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