Reexamining the Minimum Viable Population Concept for Long-Lived Species
Article first published online: 4 MAR 2013
© 2013 Society for Conservation Biology
For decades conservation biologists have proposed general rules of thumb for minimum viable population size (MVP); typically, they range from hundreds to thousands of individuals. These rules have shifted conservation resources away from small and fragmented populations. We examined whether iteroparous, long-lived species might constitute an exception to general MVP guidelines. On the basis of results from a 10-year capture-recapture study in eastern New York (U.S.A.), we developed a comprehensive demographic model for the globally threatened bog turtle (Glyptemys muhlenbergii), which is designated as endangered by the IUCN in 2011. We assessed population viability across a wide range of initial abundances and carrying capacities. Not accounting for inbreeding, our results suggest that bog turtle colonies with as few as 15 breeding females have >90% probability of persisting for >100 years, provided vital rates and environmental variance remain at currently estimated levels. On the basis of our results, we suggest that MVP thresholds may be 1–2 orders of magnitude too high for many long-lived organisms. Consequently, protection of small and fragmented populations may constitute a viable conservation option for such species, especially in a regional or metapopulation context.
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