Life history predicts risk of species decline in a stochastic world.

Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Rice University, Houston, TX 77005, USA.
Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences (Impact Factor: 5.29). 03/2012; 279(1738):2691-7. DOI: 10.1098/rspb.2012.0185
Source: PubMed

ABSTRACT Understanding what traits determine the extinction risk of species has been a long-standing challenge. Natural populations increasingly experience reductions in habitat and population size concurrent with increasing novel environmental variation owing to anthropogenic disturbance and climate change. Recent studies show that a species risk of decline towards extinction is often non-random across species with different life histories. We propose that species with life histories in which all stage-specific vital rates are more evenly important to population growth rate may be less likely to decline towards extinction under these pressures. To test our prediction, we modelled declines in population growth rates under simulated stochastic disturbance to the vital rates of 105 species taken from the literature. Populations with more equally important vital rates, determined using elasticity analysis, declined more slowly across a gradient of increasing simulated environmental variation. Furthermore, higher evenness of elasticity was significantly correlated with a reduced chance of listing as Threatened on the International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List. The relative importance of life-history traits of diverse species can help us infer how natural assemblages will be affected by novel anthropogenic and climatic disturbances.

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