Catastrophic events, either from natural (e.g., hurricane) or human-induced (e.g., forest clear-cut) processes, are a well-known threat to wild populations. However, our lack of knowledge about population-level effects of catastrophic events has inhibited the careful examination of how catastrophes affect population growth and persistence. For the critically endangered short-tailed albatross (Phoebastria albatrus), episodic volcanic eruptions are considered a serious catastrophic threat since approximately 80% of the global population of ???2500 birds (in 2006) currently breeds on an active volcano, Torishima Island. We evaluated how short-tailed albatross population persistence is affected by the catastrophic threat of a volcanic eruption relative to chronic threats. We also provide an example for overcoming the seemingly overwhelming problems created by modelling the population dynamics of a species with limited demographic data by incorporating uncertainty in our analysis. As such, we constructed a stochastic age-based matrix model that incorporated both catastrophic mortality due to volcanic eruptions and chronic mortality from several potential sources (e.g., contaminant exposure, fisheries bycatch) to determine the relative effects of these two types of threats on short-tailed albatross population growth and persistence. Modest increases (1%) in chronic (annual) mortality had a 2.5-fold greater effect on predicted short-tailed albatross stochastic population growth rate (lambda) than did the occurrence of periodic volcanic eruptions that follow historic eruption frequencies (annual probability of eruption 2.2%). Our work demonstrates that periodic catastrophic volcanic eruptions, despite their dramatic nature, are less likely to affect the population viability and recovery of short-tailed albatross than low-level chronic mortality. ?? 2009 Elsevier Ltd.
Additional publication details
The anatomy of a (potential) disaster: Volcanoes, behavior, and population viability of the short-tailed albatross (Phoebastria albatrus)