Allee effect and the uncertainty of population recovery

Conserv Biol. 2014 Jun;28(3):790-8. doi: 10.1111/cobi.12216. Epub 2014 Feb 11.


Recovery of depleted populations is fundamentally important for conservation biology and sustainable resource harvesting. At low abundance, population growth rate, a primary determinant of population recovery, is generally assumed to be relatively fast because competition is low (i.e., negative density dependence). But population growth can be limited in small populations by an Allee effect. This is particularly relevant for collapsed populations or species that have not recovered despite large reductions in, or elimination of, threats. We investigated how an Allee effect can influence the dynamics of recovery. We used Atlantic cod (Gadus morhua) as the study organism and an empirically quantified Allee effect for the species to parameterize our simulations. We simulated recovery through an individual-based mechanistic simulation model and then compared recovery among scenarios incorporating an Allee effect, negative density dependence, and an intermediate scenario. Although an Allee effect significantly slowed recovery, such that population increase could be negligible even after 100 years or more, it also made the time required for biomass rebuilding much less predictable. Our finding that an Allee effect greatly increased the uncertainty in recovery time frames provides an empirically based explanation for why the removal of threat does not always result in the recovery of depleted populations or species.

Keywords: Allee effect; Atlantic cod; Bacalao del Atlántico; cosecha sustentable; depensación; depensation; efecto Allee; overfishing; population recovery; recuperación de poblaciones; sobrepesca; sustainable harvesting.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Conservation of Natural Resources*
  • Fisheries
  • Gadus morhua / physiology*
  • Genetic Fitness*
  • Models, Genetic*
  • Population Density
  • Population Dynamics
  • Uncertainty