It has been demonstrated repeatedly that the degree to which regulation operates and the magnitude of environmental variation in an exploited population will together dictate the type of sustainable harvest achievable. Yet typically, harvest models fail to incorporate uncertainty in the underlying dynamics of the target population by assuming a particular (unknown) form of endogenous control. We use a novel approach to estimate the sustainable yield of saltwater crocodile ( Crocodylus porosus ) populations from major river systems in the Northern Territory, Australia, as an example of a system with high uncertainty. We used multimodel inference to incorporate three levels of uncertainty in yield estimation: (1) uncertainty in the choice of the underlying model(s) used to describe population dynamics, (2) the error associated with the precision and bias of model parameter estimation, and (3) environmental fluctuation (process error). We demonstrate varying strength of evidence for density regulation (1.3––96.7%%) for crocodiles among 19 river systems by applying a continuum of five dynamical models (density-independent with and without drift and three alternative density-dependent models) to time series of density estimates. Evidence for density dependence increased with the number of yearly transitions over which each river system was monitored. Deterministic proportional maximum sustainable yield (PMSY) models varied widely among river systems (0.042––0.611), and there was strong evidence for an increasing PMSY as support for density dependence rose. However, there was also a large discrepancy between PMSY values and those produced by the full stochastic simulation projection incorporating all forms of uncertainty, which can be explained by the contribution of process error to estimates of sustainable harvest. We also determined that a fixed-quota harvest strategy (up to 0.2 K , where K is the carrying capacity) reduces population size much more rapidly than proportional harvest (the latter strategy requiring temporal monitoring of population size to adjust harvest quotas) and greatly inflates the risk of resource depletion. Using an iconic species recovering from recent extreme overexploitation to examine the potential for renewed sustainable harvest, we have demonstrated that incorporating major forms of uncertainty into a single quantitative framework provides a robust approach to modeling the dynamics of exploited populations.
Ecological Applications – Ecological Society of America
Published: Aug 1, 2006
Keywords: Australia ; Crocodylus porosus ; density dependence ; harvest ; maximum sustainable yield ; Northern Territory ; process error ; recovery ; regulation ; saltwater crocodile ; time series ; uncertainty
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