Abstract: Predicting extinction probabilities for populations of various sizes has been a primary focus of conservation biology. Berger (1990) presented an empirically based extinction model for mountain sheep (Ovis canadensis) populations in five southwestern states that predicted disappearance within 50 years of all populations estimated to number 50 sheep or fewer, but essentially no loss in that time period of populations estimated at over 100. The majority of the 122 populations he used in his analysis were from California, but his analysis did not use many of the historical size estimates for these populations. I tested Berger’s (1990) model using the complete data set from California and found—contrary to his results—that, for all size classes of population estimates, at least 61% of the populations persisted for 50 years. Also, two predictions from Berger’s model were not consistent with the data from California: (1) 10 populations have increased from estimates of 50 or fewer animals to over 100, whereas the Berger model predicted that these populations would only decline to extinction; and (2) of 27 extant populations with long enough records, 85% were estimated at least 50 years ago to be 50 individuals or fewer and should therefore be extinct by now. Berger’s model has now failed tests in three states and therefore does not support the strong population size effect on extinction probability that it first appeared to provide, and it may serve conservation poorly through misdirected effort if it is used as the basis for setting policies or taking actions.
Conservation Biology – Wiley
Published: Apr 1, 1999
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