A functional trait approach to identifying life history patterns in stochastic environments

Isabel M. Smallegange*, Matty P. Berg

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review


    Temporal variation in demographic processes can greatly impact population dynamics. Perturbations of statistical coefficients that describe demographic rates within matrix models have, for example, revealed that stochastic population growth rates (log(λs)) of fast life histories are more sensitive to temporal autocorrelation of environmental conditions than those of slow life histories. Yet, we know little about the mechanisms that drive such patterns. Here, we used a mechanistic, functional trait approach to examine the functional pathways by which a typical fast life history species, the macrodetrivore Orchestia gammarellus, and a typical slow life history species, the reef manta ray Manta alfredi, differ in their sensitivity to environmental autocorrelation if (a) growth and reproduction are described mechanistically by functional traits that adhere to the principle of energy conservation, and if (b) demographic variation is determined by temporal autocorrelation in food conditions. Opposite to previous findings, we found that O. gammarellus log(λs) was most sensitive to the frequency of good food conditions, likely because reproduction traits, which directly impact population growth, were most influential to log(λs). Manta alfredi log(λs) was instead most sensitive to temporal autocorrelation, likely because growth parameters, which impact population growth indirectly, were most influential to log(λs). This differential sensitivity to functional traits likely also explains why we found that O. gammarellus mean body size decreased (due to increased reproduction) but M. alfredi mean body size increased (due to increased individual growth) as food conditions became more favorable. Increasing demographic stochasticity under constant food conditions decreased O. gammarellus mean body size and increased log(λs) due to increased reproduction, whereas M. alfredi mean body and log(λs) decreased, likely due to decreased individual growth. Our findings signify the importance of integrating functional traits into demographic models as this provides mechanistic understanding of how environmental and demographic stochasticity affects population dynamics in stochastic environments.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)9350-9361
    Number of pages12
    JournalEcology and Evolution
    Issue number16
    Early online date31 Jul 2019
    Publication statusPublished - Aug 2019


    • body size
    • dynamic energy budget
    • ecosystem engineer
    • integral projection model
    • noise color
    • performance trait
    • salt marsh
    • stochastic demography
    • Talitridae


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