Including trait-based early warning signals helps predict population collapse

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Abstract

Foreseeing population collapse is an on-going target in ecology, and this has led to the development of early warning signals based on expected changes in leading indicators before a bifurcation. Such signals have been sought for in abundance time-series data on a population of interest, with varying degrees of success. Here we move beyond these established methods by including parallel time-series data of abundance and fitness-related trait dynamics. Using data from a microcosm experiment, we show that including information on the dynamics of phenotypic traits such as body size into composite early warning indices can produce more accurate inferences of whether a population is approaching a critical transition than using abundance time-series alone. By including fitness-related trait information alongside traditional abundance-based early warning signals in a single metric of risk, our generalizable approach provides a powerful new way to assess what populations may be on the verge of collapse.

Original languageEnglish
Article number10984
Number of pages8
JournalNature Communications
Volume7
Early online date24 Mar 2016
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 24 Mar 2016

Keywords

  • Body Size
  • Ciliophora
  • Colony Collapse
  • Ecosystem
  • Paramecium caudatum
  • Phenotype
  • Population Dynamics

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