Negative environmental perturbations may improve species persistence

Proc Biol Sci. 2006 Oct 7;273(1600):2501-6. doi: 10.1098/rspb.2006.3601.


Among the factors proximally involved in the extinction of small isolated populations, genetic deterioration and temporal variation in environmental quality have been the subjects of intensive research in ecological and evolutionary sciences. However, previous theoretical studies and population viability assessments generally assumed a strict dichotomy between these two types of threat. Yet a number of empirical studies have recently suggested that the effects of genetic deterioration and environmental variation should not be considered independently, by demonstrating that the main effect of inbreeding depression lies with its tendency to exacerbate the deleterious consequences of environmental stress. Capitalizing on these results, I developed a stochastic model to examine the impact of random environmental perturbations on the persistence time of small isolated populations subject to inbreeding depression and mutation accumulation. The model assumes that spontaneous deleterious mutations have more severe effects when perturbations occur, which results in more efficient purging of the mutation load. Under this assumption, I find that negative perturbations may paradoxically improve middle- and long-term species persistence for realistic frequency of occurrence and severity distribution.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Ecosystem*
  • Environment
  • Extinction, Biological*
  • Female
  • Genetic Load
  • Inbreeding
  • Male
  • Models, Biological
  • Mutation
  • Population Dynamics
  • Time Factors