The extinction vortex is a theoretical model describing the process by which extinction risk is elevated in small, isolated populations owing to interactions between environmental, demographic, and genetic factors. However, empirical demonstrations of these interactions have been elusive. We modelled the dynamics of a small mountain lion population isolated by anthropogenic barriers in greater Los Angeles, California, to evaluate the influence of demographic, genetic, and landscape factors on extinction probability. The population exhibited strong survival and reproduction, and the model predicted stable median population growth and a 15% probability of extinction over 50 years in the absence of inbreeding depression. However, our model also predicted the population will lose 40–57% of its heterozygosity in 50 years. When we reduced demographic parameters proportional to reductions documented in another wild population of mountain lions that experienced inbreeding depression, extinction probability rose to 99.7%. Simulating greater landscape connectivity by increasing immigration to greater than or equal to one migrant per generation appears sufficient to largely maintain genetic diversity and reduce extinction probability. We provide empirical support for the central tenet of the extinction vortex as interactions between genetics and demography greatly increased extinction probability relative to the risk from demographic and environmental stochasticity alone. Our modelling approach realistically integrates demographic and genetic data to provide a comprehensive assessment of factors threatening small populations.
- Received May 5, 2016.
- Accepted August 11, 2016.
- © 2016 The Author(s)
Published by the Royal Society. All rights reserved.