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Conservation implications of a mismatch between data availability and demographic impact
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  • Alex Nicol-Harper,
  • C. Patrick Doncaster,
  • Geoff Hilton,
  • Kevin Wood,
  • Thomas Ezard
Alex Nicol-Harper
National Oceanography Centre

Corresponding Author:[email protected]

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C. Patrick Doncaster
University of Southampton
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Geoff Hilton
Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust
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Kevin Wood
Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust
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Thomas Ezard
National Oceanography Centre
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Cost-effective use of limited conservation resources requires understanding which data can most contribute to alleviating biodiversity declines. Interventions might reasonably prioritise life-cycle transitions with the greatest influence on population dynamics, yet some contributing vital rates are particularly challenging to document; such pragmatic decision-making risks suboptimal management if less is known about influential rates. We aimed to explore whether study effort aligns with demographic impact on population growth rate, λ. We parameterised a matrix population model using meta-analysis of vital rates for the common eider (Somateria mollissima), an increasingly threatened yet comparatively data-rich species of seaduck. Female common eiders exhibit intermittent breeding, with some established breeders skipping one or more years between breeding attempts. We accounted for this behaviour by building breeding propensity (= 0.72) into our model with a discrete and reversible ‘non-breeder’ stage (to which surviving adults transition with a probability of 0.28). The transitions between breeding and non-breeding states had twice the influence on λ than fertility (summed matrix-element elasticities of 24% and 11%, respectively), whereas almost 15 times as many studies document components of fertility than breeding propensity (n = 103 and n = 7, respectively). Through comparative re-analyses, we find similar results for two amphibian species, further supporting our finding that study effort does not always occur in proportion to relative influence on λ. Our workflow could form part of the toolkit informing future investment of finite resources, to avoid repeated disconnects between data needs and availability thwarting evidence-driven conservation.
23 May 2022Submitted to Ecology and Evolution
24 May 2022Submission Checks Completed
24 May 2022Assigned to Editor
27 May 2022Reviewer(s) Assigned
06 Jul 2022Review(s) Completed, Editorial Evaluation Pending
12 Jul 2022Editorial Decision: Revise Minor
21 Feb 20231st Revision Received
22 Feb 2023Assigned to Editor
22 Feb 2023Submission Checks Completed
22 Feb 2023Review(s) Completed, Editorial Evaluation Pending
24 Feb 2023Reviewer(s) Assigned
03 Apr 2023Editorial Decision: Revise Minor
02 Jun 20232nd Revision Received
03 Jun 2023Assigned to Editor
03 Jun 2023Submission Checks Completed
03 Jun 2023Review(s) Completed, Editorial Evaluation Pending
06 Jun 2023Editorial Decision: Accept