Effect of time series length and resolution on abundance- and trait-based early warning signals of population declines

A A Arkilanian, C F Clements, A Ozgul, G Baruah

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

16 Citations (Scopus)
313 Downloads (Pure)


Natural populations are increasingly threatened with collapse at the hands of anthropogenic effects. Predicting population collapse with the help of generic early warning signals (EWS) may provide a prospective tool for identifying species or populations at highest risk. However, pattern-to-process methods such as EWS have a multitude of challenges to overcome to be useful, including the low signal-to-noise ratio of ecological systems and the need for high quality time series data. The inclusion of trait dynamics with EWS has been proposed as a more robust tool to predict population collapse. However, the length and resolution of available time series are highly variable from one system to another, especially when generation time is considered. As yet, it remains unknown how this variability with regards to generation time will alter the efficacy of EWS. Here we take both a simulation- and experimental-based approach to assess the impacts of relative time series length and resolution on the forecasting ability of EWS. We show that EWS' performance decreases with decreasing time-series length. However, there was no evident decrease in EWS performance as resolution decreased. Our simulations suggest a relative time series length between 10 and five generations as a minimum requirement for accurate forecasting by abundance-based EWS. However, when trait information is included alongside abundance-based EWS, we find positive signals at lengths one-half of what was required without them. We suggest that, in systems where specific traits are known to affect demography, trait data should be monitored and included alongside abundance data to improve forecasting reliability.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere03040
Number of pages12
Issue number7
Early online date5 Mar 2020
Publication statusPublished - 30 Mar 2020


  • body size
  • early warning signals
  • fold bifurcation
  • population collapse
  • reliability
  • sampling
  • time series length
  • time series resolution
  • trait‐based EWS
  • transcritical model


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