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Assessment of the key evolutionary traits that prevent extinctions in human-altered habitats using a spatially explicit individual-based model

Eva, Graciá, Graciá, Eva, Rodríguez-Caro, Roberto C., Sanz-Aguilar, Ana, Anadón, José D., Botella, Francisco, García-García, Angel Luis, Wiegand, Thorsten, Giménez, Andrés
Ecological modelling 2020 v.415 pp. 108823
Testudo graeca, adults, animal adaptation, biodiversity conservation, demography, extinction, habitat destruction, habitats, humans, models, philopatry, population size, population viability, survival rate, tortoises
Identifying key evolutionary strategies that support population persistence remains a challenging task for biodiversity conservation. Here we assess if animal adaptations to cope with low densities (i.e. that facilitate mate-findings or promote spatial aggregation of individuals) can allow species to persist in human-altered habitats. A spatially explicit and individual-based model was developed to assess if, and under what circumstances, such adaptations maintain population viability. The model was parameterised with data from the movement and demography of the spur-thighed tortoise (Testudo graeca) and simulated scenarios with differences in adult survivorships, initial population sizes and habitat alterations. Habitat alterations reduced population viability, and extinction rates were dependent on population characteristics and mate-finding distance. In contrast, philopatry around the birthplace did not prevent extinctions. Our results highlight the importance of considering specific spatial traits of species when assessing their vulnerability to human habitat alterations.