New mathematical model to save endangered species

January 14, 2019, University of Southern Denmark
Credit: Blake Meyer on Unsplash

What does the blue whale have in common with the Bengal tiger and the green turtle? They share the risk of extinction and are classified as endangered species. There are multiple reasons for species to die out, and climate change is among the main reasons.

The risk of extinction varies from species to species depending on how individuals in its populations reproduce and how long each animal survives. Understanding the dynamics of survival and can support management actions to improve the chances of survival for a given species.

Mathematical and statistical models have become powerful tools to explain these dynamics. However, the quality of the information used to construct such models is crucial to improve the chances of accurately predicting the fate of populations in nature. "A model that over-simplifies survival and reproduction can give the illusion that a is thriving, when in reality, it will go extinct," says Associate Professor Fernando Colchero, author of new paper published in Ecology Letters.

Colchero's research focuses on mathematically recreating the by better understanding species demography. He works on constructing and exploring stochastic population models that predict how a certain population (for example, an endangered species) will change over time.

New mathematical model can help save endangered species
Colchero built a new model that take in account survival and reproduction for different species at different ages. Credit: Fernanco Colchero, SDU.

These models include mathematical factors to describe how the species' environment, and reproduction determine to the population's size and growth. For practical reasons, some assumptions are necessary.

Two commonly accepted assumptions are that survival and reproduction are constant with age, and that high survival in the species goes hand in hand with reproduction across all age groups within a species. Colchero challenged these assumptions by accounting for age-specific survival and reproduction, and for trade-offs between survival and reproduction. This is, that sometimes conditions favoring survival will be unfavorable for reproduction, and vice versa.

For his work Colchero used statistics, mathematical derivations, and computer simulations with data from wild populations of 24 species of vertebrates. The outcome was a significantly improved model that had more accurate predictions for a species' population growth.

Despite the technical nature of Fernando's work, this type of model can have very practical implications as they provide qualified explanations for the underlying reasons for the extinction. This can be used to take management actions and may help prevent extinction of .

Explore further: Dolphin and bear studies pave the way to improved population forecasting

More information: Fernando Colchero et al, The diversity of population responses to environmental change, Ecology Letters (2018). DOI: 10.1111/ele.13195

Related Stories

Snail kites must do more than move to thrive

August 9, 2018

Among its many useful traits, the federally endangered snail kite helps wildlife managers gauge whether the Florida Everglades has sufficient water. That's one reason University of Florida scientists closely monitor the birds' ...

Recommended for you

Scientists ID another possible threat to orcas: pink salmon

January 19, 2019

Over the years, scientists have identified dams, pollution and vessel noise as causes of the troubling decline of the Pacific Northwest's resident killer whales. Now, they may have found a new and more surprising culprit: ...

Researchers come face to face with huge great white shark

January 18, 2019

Two shark researchers who came face to face with what could be one of the largest great whites ever recorded are using their encounter as an opportunity to push for legislation that would protect sharks in Hawaii.

Why do Hydra end up with just a single head?

January 18, 2019

Often considered immortal, the freshwater Hydra can regenerate any part of its body, a trait discovered by the Geneva naturalist Abraham Trembley nearly 300 years ago. Any fragment of its body containing a few thousands cells ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.