Main content area

A Behaviorally Explicit Demographic Model Integrating Habitat Selection and Population Dynamics in California Sea Lions

Conservation biology 2008 v.22 no.6 pp. 1608-1618
Zalophus, biologists, extinction, habitats, models, philopatry, population dynamics, population size, risk, viability
Although there has been a call for the integration of behavioral ecology and conservation biology, there are few tools currently available to achieve this integration. Explicitly including information about behavioral strategies in population viability analyses may enhance the ability of conservation biologists to understand and estimate patterns of extinction risk. Nevertheless, most behavioral-based PVA approaches require detailed individual-based data that are rarely available for imperiled species. We present a mechanistic approach that incorporates spatial and demographic consequences of behavioral strategies into population models used for conservation. We developed a stage-structured matrix model that includes the costs and benefits of movement associated with 2 habitat-selection strategies (philopatry and direct assessment). Using a life table for California sea lions ( Zalophus californianus), we explored the sensitivity of model predictions to the inclusion of these behavioral parameters. Including behavioral information dramatically changed predicted population sizes, model dynamics, and the expected distribution of individuals among sites. Estimated population sizes projected in 100 years diverged up to 1 order of magnitude among scenarios that assumed different movement behavior. Scenarios also exhibited different model dynamics that ranged from stable equilibria to cycles or extinction. These results suggest that inclusion of behavioral data in viability models may improve estimates of extinction risk for imperiled species. Our approach provides a simple method for incorporating spatial and demographic consequences of behavioral strategies into population models and may be easily extended to other species and behaviors to understand the mechanisms of population dynamics for imperiled populations.