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Ecol Appl. 2008 Oct;18(7):1781-94.

Using demography and movement behavior to predict range expansion of the southern sea otter.

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  • 1U.S. Geological Survey, Western Ecological Research Center, Long Marine Laboratory, 100 Shaffer Road, Santa Cruz, California 95060, USA.


In addition to forecasting population growth, basic demographic data combined with movement data provide a means for predicting rates of range expansion. Quantitative models of range expansion have rarely been applied to large vertebrates, although such tools could be useful for restoration and management of many threatened but recovering populations. Using the southern sea otter (Enhydra lutris nereis) as a case study, we utilized integro-difference equations in combination with a stage-structured projection matrix that incorporated spatial variation in dispersal and demography to make forecasts of population recovery and range recolonization. In addition to these basic predictions, we emphasize how to make these modeling predictions useful in a management context through the inclusion of parameter uncertainty and sensitivity analysis. Our models resulted in hind-cast (1989-2003) predictions of net population growth and range expansion that closely matched observed patterns. We next made projections of future range expansion and population growth, incorporating uncertainty in all model parameters, and explored the sensitivity of model predictions to variation in spatially explicit survival and dispersal rates. The predicted rate of southward range expansion (median = 5.2 km/yr) was sensitive to both dispersal and survival rates; elasticity analysis indicated that changes in adult survival would have the greatest potential effect on the rate of range expansion, while perturbation analysis showed that variation in subadult dispersal contributed most to variance in model predictions. Variation in survival and dispersal of females at the south end of the range contributed most of the variance in predicted southward range expansion. Our approach provides guidance for the acquisition of further data and a means of forecasting the consequence of specific management actions. Similar methods could aid in the management of other recovering populations.

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