Estimating Allee thresholds before they can be observed: polar bears as a case study.

  • Author(s) / Creator(s)
  • Allee effects are an important component in the population dynamics of numerous species. Accounting for these Allee effects in population viability analyses generally requires estimates of low-density population growth rates, but such data are unavailable for most species and particularly difficult to obtain for large mammals. Here, we present a mechanistic modeling framework that allows estimating the expected low-density growth rates under a mate-finding Allee effect before the Allee effect occurs or can be observed. The approach relies on representing the mechanisms causing the Allee effect in a process-based model, which can be parameterized and validated from data on the mechanisms rather than data on population growth. We illustrate the approach using polar bears (Ursus maritimus), and estimate their expected low-density growth by linking a mating dynamics model to a matrix projection model. The Allee threshold, defined as the population density below which growth becomes negative, is shown to depend on age-structure, sex ratio, and the life history parameters determining reproduction and survival. The Allee threshold is thus both density- and frequency-dependent. Sensitivity analyses of the Allee threshold show that different combinations of the parameters determining reproduction and survival can lead to differing Allee thresholds, even if these differing combinations imply the same stable-stage population growth rate. The approach further shows how mate-limitation can induce long transient dynamics, even in populations that eventually grow to carrying capacity. Applying the models to the overharvested low-density polar bear population of Viscount Melville Sound, Canada, shows that a mate-finding Allee effect is a plausible mechanism for slow recovery of this population. Our approach is generalizable to any mating system and life cycle, and could aid proactive management and conservation strategies, for example, by providing a priori estimates of minimum conservation targets for rare species or minimum eradication targets for pests and invasive species.

  • Date created
  • Subjects / Keywords
  • Type of Item
    Article (Published)
  • DOI
  • License
    Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 International
  • Language
  • Citation for previous publication
    • Molnár PK, Lewis MA, Derocher AE (2014) Estimating Allee Dynamics before They Can Be Observed: Polar Bears as a Case Study. PLoS ONE 9(1): e85410. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0085410