Including trait-based early warning signals helps predict population collapse

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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
Early online date24 Mar 2016
Publication statusPublished - 24 Mar 2016


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


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