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No evidence of critical slowing down in two endangered Hawaiian honeycreepers

November 13, 2017

There is debate about the current population trends and predicted short-term fates of the endangered forest birds, Hawai`i Creeper (Loxops mana) and Hawai`i `Ākepa (L. coccineus). Using long-term population size estimates, some studies report forest bird populations as stable or increasing, while other studies report signs of population decline or impending extinction associated with introduced Japanese White-eye (Zosterops japonicus) increase. Reliable predictors of impending population collapse, well before the collapse begins, have been reported in simulations and microcosm experiments. In these studies, statistical indicators of critical slowing down, a phenomenon characterized by longer recovery rates after population size perturbation, are reported to be early warning signals of an impending regime shift observable prior to the tipping point. While the conservation applications of these metrics are commonly discussed, early warning signal detection methods are rarely applied to population size data from natural populations, so their efficacy and utility in species management remain unclear. We evaluated two time series of state-space abundance estimates (1987–2012) from Hakalau Forest National Wildlife Refuge, Hawai`i to test for evidence of early warning signals of impending population collapse for the Hawai`i Creeper and Hawai`i `Ākepa. We looked for signals throughout the time series, and prior to 2000, when white-eye abundance began increasing. We found no evidence for either species of increasing variance, autocorrelation, or skewness, which are commonly reported early warning signals. We calculated linear rather than ordinary skewness because the latter is biased, particularly for small sample sizes. Furthermore, we identified break-points in trends over time for both endangered species, indicating shifts in slopes away from strongly increasing trends, but they were only weakly supported by Bayesian change-point analyses (i.e., no step-wise changes in abundance). The break-point and change-point test results, in addition to the early warning signal analyses, support that the two populations do not appear to show signs of critical slowing down or decline.

Publication Year 2017
Title No evidence of critical slowing down in two endangered Hawaiian honeycreepers
DOI 10.1371/journal.pone.0187518
Authors Jessica C. Rozek, Richard J. Camp, J. Michael Reed
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title PLoS ONE
Index ID 70194130
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Pacific Island Ecosystems Research Center