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A statistical forecasting approach to metapopulation viability analysis

November 11, 2019

Conservation of at‐risk species is aided by reliable forecasts of the consequences of environmental change and management actions on population viability. Forecasts from conventional population viability analysis (PVA) are made using a two‐step procedure in which parameters are estimated, or elicited from expert opinion, and then plugged into a stochastic population model without accounting for parameter uncertainty. Recently developed statistical PVAs differ because forecasts are made conditional on models fitted to empirical data. The statistical forecasting approach allows for uncertainty about parameters, but it has rarely been applied in metapopulation contexts where spatially explicit inference is needed about colonization and extinction dynamics and other forms of stochasticity that influence metapopulation viability. We conducted a statistical metapopulation viability analysis (MPVA) using 11 yr of data on the federally threatened Chiricahua leopard frog (Lithobates chiricahuensis) to forecast responses to landscape heterogeneity, drought, environmental stochasticity, and management. We evaluated several future environmental scenarios and pond restoration options designed to reduce extinction risk. Forecasts over a 50‐yr time horizon indicated that metapopulation extinction risk was <4% for all scenarios, but uncertainty was high. Without pond restoration, extinction risk is forecasted to be 3.9% (95% CI 0–37%) by year 2066. Restoring six ponds by increasing their hydroperiod reduced extinction risk to <1% and greatly reduced uncertainty (95% CI 0–2%). Our results suggest that managers can mitigate the impacts of drought and environmental stochasticity on metapopulation viability by maintaining ponds that hold water throughout the year and keeping them free of invasive predators. Our study illustrates the utility of the spatially explicit statistical forecasting approach to MPVA in conservation planning efforts.

Publication Year 2019
Title A statistical forecasting approach to metapopulation viability analysis
DOI 10.1002/eap.2038
Authors Paige E. Howell, Blake R. Hossack, Erin L. Muths, Brent Sigafus, A Chenevert-Steffler, Richard B. Chandler
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Ecological Applications
Index ID 70208922
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Northern Rocky Mountain Science Center