Population effects of increased climate variation

John M Drake

Abstract

Global circulation models predict and numerous observations confirm that anthropogenic climate change has altered high-frequency climate variability. However, it is not yet well understood how changing patterns of environmental variation will affect wildlife population dynamics and other ecological processes. Theory predicts that a population's long-run growth rate is diminished and the chance of population extinction is increased as environmental variation increases. This results from the fact that population growth is a multiplicative process and that long-run population growth rate is the geometric mean of growth rates over time, which is always less than the arithmetic mean. However, when population growth rates for unstructured populations are related nonlinearly to environmental drivers, increasing environmental variation can increase a population's long-run growth rate. This suggests that patterns of environmental variation associated with different aspects of climate change may affect population dynamics in different ways. Specifically, increasing variation in rainfall might result in diminished long-run growth rates for many animal species while increasing variation in temperature might result in increased long-run growth rates. While the effect of rainfall is theoretically well understood and supported by data, the hypothesized effect of temperature is not. Here, I analyse two datasets to study the effect of fluctuating temperatures on growth rates of zooplankton. Results are consistent with the prediction that fluctuating temperatures should increase long-run growth rates and the frequency of extreme demographic events.

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Footnotes

    • Received January 4, 2005.
    • Accepted April 12, 2005.
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