Optimal exploitation strategies were studied for an animal population in a stochastic, serially correlated environment. This is a general case and encompasses a number of important cases as simplifications. Data on the mallard (Anas platyrhynchos) were used to explore the exploitation strategies and test several hypotheses because relatively much is known concerning the life history and general ecology of this species and extensive empirical data are available for analysis. The number of small ponds on the central breeding grounds was used as an index to the state of the environment. Desirable properties of an optimal exploitation strategy were defined. A mathematical model was formulated to provide a synthesis of the existing literature, estimates of parameters developed from an analysis of data, and hypotheses regarding the specific effect of exploitation on total survival. Both the literature and the analysis of data were inconclusive concerning the effect of exploitation on survival. Therefore, alternative hypotheses were formulated: (1) exploitation mortality represents a largely additive form of mortality, or (2 ) exploitation mortality is compensatory with other forms of mortality, at least to some threshold level. Models incorporating these two hypotheses were formulated as stochastic dynamic programming models and optimal exploitation strategies were derived numerically on a digital computer. Optimal exploitation strategies were found to exist under rather general conditions. Direct feedback control was an integral component in the optimal decision-making process. Optimal exploitation was found to be substantially different depending upon the hypothesis regarding the effect of exploitation on the population. Assuming that exploitation is largely an additive force of mortality, optimal exploitation decisions are a convex function of the size of the breeding population and a linear or slightly concave function of the environmental conditions. Optimal exploitation under this hypothesis tends to reduce the variance of the size of the population. Under the hypothesis of compensatory mortality forces, optimal exploitation decisions are approximately linearly related to the size of the breeding population. Environmental variables may be somewhat more important than the size of the breeding population to the production of young mallards. In contrast, the size of the breeding population appears to be more important in the exploitation process than is the state of the environment. The form of the exploitation strategy appears to be relatively insensitive to small changes in the production rate. In general, the relative importance of the size of the breeding population may decrease as fecundity increases. The optimal level of exploitation in year t must be based on the observed size of the population and the state of the environment in year t unless the dynamics of the population, the state of the environment, and the result of the exploitation decisions are completely deterministic. Exploitation based on an average harvest, harvest rate, or designed to maintain a constant breeding population size is inefficient.
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Optimal exploitation strategies for an animal population in a stochastic serially correlated environment