Modeling effects of nonbreeders on population growth estimates

Aline M Lee, Jane M Reid, Steven R Beissinger

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

27 Citations (Scopus)
10 Downloads (Pure)


1.Adult individuals that do not breed in a given year occur in a wide range of natural populations. However, such nonbreeders are often ignored in theoretical and empirical population studies, limiting our knowledge of how nonbreeders affect realized and estimated population dynamics and potentially impeding projection of deterministic and stochastic population growth rates. 2.We present and analyze a general modeling framework for systems where breeders and nonbreeders differ in key demographic rates, incorporating different forms of nonbreeding, different life histories, and frequency-dependent effects of nonbreeders on demographic rates of breeders. 3.Comparisons of estimates of deterministic population growth rate, λ, and demographic variance, σ(2) d , from models with and without distinct nonbreeder classes show that models that do not explicitly incorporate nonbreeders give upwardly biased estimates of σ(2) d , particularly when the equilibrium ratio of nonbreeders to breeders, N*nb/N*b, is high. Estimates of λ from empirical observations of breeders only are substantially inflated when individuals frequently re-enter the breeding population after periods of nonbreeding. 4.Sensitivity analyses of diverse parameterizations of our model framework, with and without negative frequency-dependent effects of nonbreeders on breeder demographic rates, show how changes in demographic rates of breeders versus nonbreeders differentially affect λ. In particular, λ is most sensitive to nonbreeder parameters in long-lived species, when N*nb/N*b > 0, and when individuals are unlikely to breed at several consecutive time steps. 5.Our results demonstrate that failing to account for nonbreeders in population studies can obscure low population growth rates that should cause management concern. Quantifying the size and demography of the nonbreeding section of populations and modeling appropriate demographic structuring is therefore essential to evaluate nonbreeders' influence on deterministic and stochastic population dynamics. This article is protected by copyright. All rights reserved.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)75-87
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Animal Ecology
Issue number1
Early online date13 Oct 2016
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2017

Bibliographical note

We thank the Beissinger lab and reviewers for helpful comments on manuscript drafts. This research was funded by a Marie Curie International Outgoing Fellowship
within the 7th European Community Framework Programme (project NON-
BREEDERS). The contents of this paper reflect the views of the researchers, not
the views of the European Commission.

Data Accessibility R-code available from the Dryad Digital Repository: (Lee, Reid & Beissinger, 2016).


  • demographic stochasticity
  • floaters
  • intermittent breeding
  • matrix model
  • non-breeding
  • population dynamics
  • reproductive skipping
  • sensitivity analysis


Dive into the research topics of 'Modeling effects of nonbreeders on population growth estimates'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this