Skip to main content
Dryad logo

Data from: Changes in age-structure over four decades were a key determinant of population growth rate in a long-lived mammal

Citation

Jackson, John et al. (2020), Data from: Changes in age-structure over four decades were a key determinant of population growth rate in a long-lived mammal, Dryad, Dataset, https://doi.org/10.5061/dryad.m905qftwx

Abstract

1. A changing environment directly influences birth and mortality rates, and thus population growth rates. However, population growth rates in the short-term are also influenced by population age-structure. Despite its importance, the contribution of age-structure to population growth rates has rarely been explored empirically in wildlife populations with long-term demographic data.

2. Here, we assessed how changes in age-structure influenced short-term population dynamics in a semi-captive population of Asian elephants (Elephas maximus).

3. We addressed this question using a demographic dataset of female Asian elephants from timber camps in Myanmar spanning 45 years (1970-2014). First, we explored temporal variation in age-structure. Then, using annual matrix population models, we used a retrospective approach to assess the contributions of age-structure and vital rates to short-term population growth rates with respect to the average environment.

4. Age-structure was highly variable over the study period, with large proportions of juveniles in the years 1970 and 1985, and made a substantial contribution to annual population growth rate deviations. High adult birth rates between 1970-1980 would have resulted in large positive population growth rates, but these were prevented by a low proportion of reproductive-aged females.

5. We highlight that an understanding of both age-specific vital rates and age-structure is needed to assess short-term population dynamics. Furthermore, this example from a human-managed system suggests that the importance of age-structure may be accentuated in populations experiencing human disturbance where age-structure is unstable, such as those in captivity or for endangered species. Ultimately, changes to the environment drive population dynamics by influencing birth and mortality rates, but understanding demographic structure is crucial for assessing population growth.

Funding

Natural Environment Research Council

European Research Council