Towards a predictive conservation biology: the devil is in the behaviour
Peer reviewed, Journal article
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One of the most important challenges in conservation biology is to predict the viability of populations of vulnerable and threatened species. This requires that the demographic stochasticity strongly affecting the ecological and evolutionary dynamics of especially small populations is correctly estimated and modelled. Here, we summarize theoretical evidence showing that the demographic variance in population dynamics is a key parameter determining the probability of extinction and also is directly linked to the magnitude of the genetic drift in the population. The demographic variance is dependent on the mating system, being larger in a polygynous than in monogamous populations. Understanding factors affecting intersexual differences in mating success is therefore essential in explaining variation in the demographic variance. We hypothesize that the strength of sexual selection, for example, quantified by the Bateman gradient, may be a useful predictor of the magnitude of the demographic stochasticity and hence the genetic drift in the population. We provide results from a field study of moose that support this claim. Thus, including central principles from behavioural ecology may increase the reliability of population viability analyses through an improvement of our understanding of factors affecting stochastic influences on population dynamics and evolutionary processes.