Thresholds for impaired species recovery

Proc Biol Sci. 2015 Jun 22;282(1809):20150654. doi: 10.1098/rspb.2015.0654.

Abstract

Studies on small and declining populations dominate research in conservation biology. This emphasis reflects two overarching frameworks: the small-population paradigm focuses on correlates of increased extinction probability; the declining-population paradigm directs attention to the causes and consequences of depletion. Neither, however, particularly informs research on the determinants, rate or uncertainty of population increase. By contrast, Allee effects (positive associations between population size and realized per capita population growth rate, r(realized), a metric of average individual fitness) offer a theoretical and empirical basis for identifying numerical and temporal thresholds at which recovery is unlikely or uncertain. Following a critique of studies on Allee effects, I quantify population-size minima and subsequent trajectories of marine fishes that have and have not recovered following threat mitigation. The data suggest that threat amelioration, albeit necessary, can be insufficient to effect recovery for populations depleted to less than 10% of maximum abundance (N(max)), especially when they remain depleted for lengthy periods of time. Comparing terrestrial and aquatic vertebrates, life-history analyses suggest that population-size thresholds for impaired recovery are likely to be comparatively low for marine fishes but high for marine mammals.Articulation of a 'recovering population paradigm' would seem warranted. It might stimulate concerted efforts to identify generic impaired recovery thresholds across species. It might also serve to reduce the confusion of terminology, and the conflation of causes and consequences with patterns currently evident in the literature on Allee effects, thus strengthening communication among researchers and enhancing the practical utility of recovery-oriented research to conservation practitioners and resource managers.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Conservation of Natural Resources*
  • Endangered Species*
  • Fishes / physiology*
  • Models, Biological
  • Population Density
  • Population Growth
  • Uncertainty