Integrated modeling predicts shifts in waterbird population dynamics under climate change

2 May 2019

Zhao, Qing; Boomer, G.; Royle, Andy

Climate change has been identified as one of the most important drivers of wildlife population dynamics. The in-depth knowledge of the complex relationships between climate and population sizes through density dependent demographic processes is important for understanding and predicting population shifts under climate change, which requires integrated population models (IPMs) that unify the analyses of demography and abundance data. In this study we developed an IPM based on Gaussian approximation to dynamic N-mixture models for large scale population data. We then analyzed four decades (1972-2013) of Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos) breeding population survey, band-recovery, and climate data covering a large spatial extent from North American prairies through boreal habitat to Alaska. We aimed to test the hypothesis that climate change will cause shifts in population dynamics if climatic effects on demographic parameters that have substantial contribution to population growth vary spatially. More specifically, we examined the spatial variation of climatic effects on density dependent population demography, identified the key demographic parameters that are influential to population growth, and forecasted population responses to climate change. Our results revealed that recruitment, which explained more variance of population growth than survival, was sensitive to the temporal variation of precipitation in the southern portion of the study area but not in the north. Survival, by contrast, was insensitive to climatic variation. We then forecasted a decrease in Mallard breeding population density in the south and an increase in the northwestern portion of the study area, indicating potential shifts in population dynamics under future climate change. Our results implied that different strategies need to be considered across regions to conserve waterfowl populations in the face of climate change. Our modelling approach can be adapted for other species and thus has wide application to understanding and predicting population dynamics in the presence of global change.