Stochastic population growth in spatially heterogeneous environments

May, 2011
Report Number: 
Steven N. Evans, Peter L. Ralph, Sebastian J. Schreiber, Arnab Sen

Classical ecological theory predicts that environmental stochasticity increases extinction risk by reducing the average per-capita growth rate of populations. To understand the interactive effects of environmental stochasticity, spatial heterogeneity, and dispersal on population growth, we study the following model for population abundances in $n$ patches; the conditional law of $X_{t+dt}$ given $X_t=x$ is such that when $dt$ is small the conditional mean of $X_{t+dt}^i-X_t^i$ is approximately $[x^i\mu_i+\sum_j(x^j D_{ji}-x^i D_{ij})]dt$, where $X_t^i$ and $\mu_i$ are the abundance and per capita growth rate in the $i$-th patch respectivly, and $D_{ij}$ is the dispersal rate from the $i$-th to the $j$-th patch, and the conditional covariance of $X_{t+dt}^i-X_t^i$ and $X_{t+dt}^j-X_t^j$ is approximately $x^i x^j \sigma_{ij}dt$. We show for such a spatially extended population that if $S_t=(X_t^1+...+X_t^n)$ is the total population abundance, then $Y_t=X_t/S_t$, the vector of patch proportions, converges in law to a random vector $Y_\infty$ as $t\to\infty$, and the stochastic growth rate $\lim_{t\to\infty}t^{-1}\log S_t$ equals the space-time average per-capita growth rate $\sum_i\mu_i\E[Y_\infty^i]$ experienced by the population minus half of the space-time average temporal variation $\E[\sum_{i,j}\sigma_{ij}Y_\infty^i Y_\infty^j]$ experienced by the population. We derive analytic results for the law of $Y_\infty$, find which choice of the dispersal mechanism $D$ produces an optimal stochastic growth rate for a freely dispersing population, and investigate the effect on the stochastic growth rate of constraints on dispersal rates. Our results provide fundamental insights into "ideal free" movement in the face of uncertainty, the persistence of coupled sink populations, the evolution of dispersal rates, and the single large or several small (SLOSS) debate in conservation biology.

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