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Accommodating environmental variation in population models: metaphysiological biomass loss accounting.

  • Owen-Smith, Norman
Published Article
Journal of Animal Ecology
Wiley (Blackwell Publishing)
Publication Date
Jul 01, 2011
DOI: 10.1111/j.1365-2656.2011.01820.x
PMID: 21644974


1. There is a pressing need for population models that can reliably predict responses to changing environmental conditions and diagnose the causes of variation in abundance in space as well as through time. In this 'how to' article, it is outlined how standard population models can be modified to accommodate environmental variation in a heuristically conducive way. This approach is based on metaphysiological modelling concepts linking populations within food web contexts and underlying behaviour governing resource selection. Using population biomass as the currency, population changes can be considered at fine temporal scales taking into account seasonal variation. Density feedbacks are generated through the seasonal depression of resources even in the absence of interference competition. 2. Examples described include (i) metaphysiological modifications of Lotka-Volterra equations for coupled consumer-resource dynamics, accommodating seasonal variation in resource quality as well as availability, resource-dependent mortality and additive predation, (ii) spatial variation in habitat suitability evident from the population abundance attained, taking into account resource heterogeneity and consumer choice using empirical data, (iii) accommodating population structure through the variable sensitivity of life-history stages to resource deficiencies, affecting susceptibility to oscillatory dynamics and (iv) expansion of density-dependent equations to accommodate various biomass losses reducing population growth rate below its potential, including reductions in reproductive outputs. Supporting computational code and parameter values are provided. 3. The essential features of metaphysiological population models include (i) the biomass currency enabling within-year dynamics to be represented appropriately, (ii) distinguishing various processes reducing population growth below its potential, (iii) structural consistency in the representation of interacting populations and (iv) capacity to accommodate environmental variation in space as well as through time. Biomass dynamics provide a common currency linking behavioural, population and food web ecology. 4. Metaphysiological biomass loss accounting provides a conceptual framework more conducive for projecting and interpreting the population consequences of climatic shifts and human transformations of habitats than standard modelling approaches.

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