Life History Evolution and Demographic Stochasticity

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annual, perennial, neutral models, variance

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Can demographic stochasticity bias the evolution of life history traits? Under a neutral version of the Cole-Charnov-Schaffer model, variance in offspring number for both annuals and perennials depends on the precise values of fitness components. Either annuals or perennials may have the larger variance (for equal λ), depending on the importance of random survivalversus fixed reproduction. By extension, the variance in offspring number should generally depend on whether λ is mainly composed of highly variable elements or elements with limited variation. Thus, data about the variability of demographic parameters may be as important as data about their mean values.

This result concerns only one source of demographic stochasticity, the probabilistic nature of demographic processes like survival. The other source of demographic stochasticity is the fact that populations are composed of whole numbers of individuals (integer arithmetic). Integer arithmetic without probabilistic demography (or environmental variation) can make it difficult for rare invaders to persist in populations even when selection would favour the invaders in a deterministic model. Integer arithmetic can also cause population coexistence when the equivalent deterministic model leads to exclusion. This effect disappears when demography is probabilistic, and probably also when there is environmental variation. Thus probabilistic demography and environmental variation may make some population patterns more, rather than less, understandable.

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Evolutionary Ecology , v. 7, issue 1, p. 1-14