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Most mammalian populations suffer from natural or human-induced disturbances; populations are no longer at the equilibrium (i.e., at stable [st]age distribution) and exhibit transient dynamics. From a literature survey, we studied patterns of transient dynamics for mammalian species spanning a large range of life-history tactics and population growth rates. For each population, we built an age-structured matrix and calculated six metrics of transient dynamics. After controlling for possible confounding effects of the phylogenetic relatedness among species using a phylogenetic principal component analysis and phylogenetic generalized least squares models, we found that short-term demographic responses of mammalian populations to disturbance are shaped by generation time and growth rate. Species with a slow pace of life (i.e., species with a late maturity, a low fecundity, and a long life span) displayed decreases in population size after a disturbance, whereas fast-living species increased in population size. The magnitude of short-term variation in population size increased with asymptotic population growth, being buffered in slow-growing species (i.e., species with a low population growth rate) but large in fast-growing species. By demonstrating direct links between transient dynamics, life history (generation time), and ecology (demographic regime), our comparative analysis of transient dynamics clearly improves our understanding of population dynamics in variable environments and has clear implications for future studies of the interplay between evolutionary and ecological dynamics. As most populations in the wild are not at equilibrium, we recommend that analyses of transient dynamics be performed when studying population dynamics in variable environments.

Original publication




Journal article


Am Nat

Publication Date





673 - 683


Animals, Ecosystem, Fertility, Life Cycle Stages, Mammals, Phylogeny, Population Density, Population Dynamics, Population Growth, Reproduction, Time Factors