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Ecol Evol. 2018 Sep 12;8(19):9934-9946. doi: 10.1002/ece3.4458. eCollection 2018 Oct.

Understanding the population consequences of disturbance.

Author information

Department of Mathematics and Statistics Washington State University Vancouver Washington.
School of Biological, Earth and Environmental Sciences University College Cork Cork Ireland.
SMRU Consulting New Technology Centre St Andrews UK.
Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology University of California Santa Cruz California.
Department of Environmental Science and Policy University of California Davis California.
Department of Fish, Wildlife and Conservation Biology Colorado State University Fort Collins Colorado.
Anderson-Cabot Center for Ocean Life New England Aquarium Boston Massachusetts.
School of Biological Sciences University of Aberdeen Aberdeen UK.
Naval Undersea Warfare Center Newport Rhode Island.
Duke University Durham North Carolina.
Centre for Research into Ecological and Environmental Modelling University of St Andrews St Andrews UK.
Institute of Marine Sciences University of California Santa Cruz California.
Marine Mammal Commission Bethesda Maryland.
Sea Mammal Research Unit Scottish Oceans Institute School of Biology University of St Andrews St Andrews UK.
Office of Naval Research Marine Mammal & Biology Program Arlington Virginia.
Chicago Zoological Society's Sarasota Dolphin Research Program c/o Mote Marine Laboratory Sarasota Florida.


Managing the nonlethal effects of disturbance on wildlife populations has been a long-term goal for decision makers, managers, and ecologists, and assessment of these effects is currently required by European Union and United States legislation. However, robust assessment of these effects is challenging. The management of human activities that have nonlethal effects on wildlife is a specific example of a fundamental ecological problem: how to understand the population-level consequences of changes in the behavior or physiology of individual animals that are caused by external stressors. In this study, we review recent applications of a conceptual framework for assessing and predicting these consequences for marine mammal populations. We explore the range of models that can be used to formalize the approach and we identify critical research gaps. We also provide a decision tree that can be used to select the most appropriate model structure given the available data. Synthesis and applications: The implementation of this framework has moved the focus of discussion of the management of nonlethal disturbances on marine mammal populations away from a rhetorical debate about defining negligible impact and toward a quantitative understanding of long-term population-level effects. Here we demonstrate the framework's general applicability to other marine and terrestrial systems and show how it can support integrated modeling of the proximate and ultimate mechanisms that regulate trait-mediated, indirect interactions in ecological communities, that is, the nonconsumptive effects of a predator or stressor on a species' behavior, physiology, or life history.


anthropogenic disturbance; environmental impact assessments; marine mammals; nonconsumptive effects; population consequences; trait‐mediated indirect interactions; uncertainty

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