Population responses to perturbations: the importance of trait-based analysis illustrated through a microcosm experiment.
Ozgul A., Coulson T., Reynolds A., Cameron TC., Benton TG.
Environmental change continually perturbs populations from a stable state, leading to transient dynamics that can last multiple generations. Several long-term studies have reported changes in trait distributions along with demographic response to environmental change. Here we conducted an experimental study on soil mites and investigated the interaction between demography and an individual trait over a period of nonstationary dynamics. By following individual fates and body sizes at each life-history stage, we investigated how body size and population density influenced demographic rates. By comparing the ability of two alternative approaches, a matrix projection model and an integral projection model, we investigated whether consideration of trait-based demography enhances our ability to predict transient dynamics. By utilizing a prospective perturbation analysis, we addressed which stage-specific demographic or trait-transition rate had the greatest influence on population dynamics. Both body size and population density had important effects on most rates; however, these effects differed substantially among life-history stages. Considering the observed trait-demography relationships resulted in better predictions of a population's response to perturbations, which highlights the role of phenotypic plasticity in transient dynamics. Although the perturbation analyses provided comparable predictions of stage-specific elasticities between the matrix and integral projection models, the order of importance of the life-history stages differed between the two analyses. In conclusion, we demonstrate how a trait-based demographic approach provides further insight into transient population dynamics.