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Rainfall in Arid Zones: Possible Effects of Climate Change on the Population Ecology of Blue Cranes

Res Altwegg and Mark D. Anderson
Functional Ecology
Vol. 23, No. 5 (Oct., 2009), pp. 1014-1021
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/40407711
Page Count: 8
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Rainfall in Arid Zones: Possible Effects of Climate Change on the Population Ecology of Blue Cranes
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Abstract

1. Understanding the demographie mechanisms through which climate affects population dynamics is criticai for predicting climate change impacts on biodiversity. In arid habitats, rainfall is the most important forcing climatic factor. Rainfall in arid zones is typically variable and unpredictable, and we therefore hypothesise that its seasonality and variability may be as important for the population ecology of arid zone animais as its total amount. 2. Here we examine the effect of these aspects of rainfall on reproduction and age specifie survival of blue cranes (Anthropoidesparadiseus Lichtenstein) in the semi-arid eastern Nama Karoo, South Africa. We then use our results to predict the effect of changes in rainfall at the population level. 3. Using combined capture-mark-resighting and dead-recovery models, we estimated average survival of cranes to be 0-53 in their first year, 0-73 in their second and third year, and 0-96 for older birds. 4. We distinguished between three seasons, based on the blue cranes' breeding phenology: early breeding season, late breeding season and nonbreeding season. Cranes survived better with increasing rainfall during the late but not early breeding season. Based on road counts and success of monitored nests, reproduction was positively associated with rainfall during the early but not late breeding season. 5. A matrix population model predicted that population growth rate would increase with increasing rainfall. A stochastic analysis showed that variation in early breeding season rainfall increased population growth slightly due to the nonlinear relationship between rainfall and reproduction. This effect was opposed by the effect of variation in late breeding season rainfall on survival and overall, variation in rainfall had a negligible effect on population growth. 6. Our results allow predictions to be made for a range of climate-change scenarios. For example, a shift in seasonality with drier Springs but wetter summers would likely decrease reproduction but increase survival, with little overall effect on population growth.

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