Understanding the population consequences of disturbance

Enrico Pirotta (Corresponding Author), Cormac G. Booth, Daniel P. Costa, Erica Fleishman, Scott D. Kraus, David Lusseau, David Moretti, Leslie F. New, Robert S. Schick, Lisa K. Schwarz, Samantha E. Simmons, Len Thomas, Peter L. Tyack, Michael J. Weise, Randall S. Wells, John Harwood

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

154 Citations (Scopus)
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Managing the nonlethal effects of disturbance on wildlife populations has been a long‐term goal for decision makers, managers, and ecologists, and assessment of these effects is currently required by European Union and United States legislation. However, robust assessment of these effects is challenging. The management of human activities that have nonlethal effects on wildlife is a specific example of a fundamental ecological problem: how to understand the population‐level consequences of changes in the behavior or physiology of individual animals that are caused by external stressors. In this study, we review recent applications of a conceptual framework for assessing and predicting these consequences for marine mammal populations. We explore the range of models that can be used to formalize the approach and we identify critical research gaps. We also provide a decision tree that can be used to select the most appropriate model structure given the available data. Synthesis and applications: The implementation of this framework has moved the focus of discussion of the management of nonlethal disturbances on marine mammal populations away from a rhetorical debate about defining negligible impact and toward a quantitative understanding of long‐term population‐level effects. Here we demonstrate the framework's general applicability to other marine and terrestrial systems and show how it can support integrated modeling of the proximate and ultimate mechanisms that regulate trait‐mediated, indirect interactions in ecological communities, that is, the nonconsumptive effects of a predator or stressor on a species' behavior, physiology, or life history.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)9934-9946
Number of pages13
JournalEcology and Evolution
Issue number19
Early online date12 Sept 2018
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2018

Bibliographical note

This review was supported by Office of Naval Research grant N00014‐16‐1‐2858: “PCoD+: Developing widely‐applicable models of the population consequences of disturbance.” The work benefited from discussions with participants in a working group supported by Office of Naval Research (ONR) grants N00014‐09‐1‐0896 to the University of California, Santa Barbara and N00014‐12‐1‐0274 to the University of California, Davis. It also benefited from discussions and analyses funded by the E&P Sound and Marine Life Joint Industry Project of the International Association of Oil and Gas Producers. PLT and DL acknowledge support from the MASTS pooling initiative (Marine Alliance for Science and Technology for Scotland; supported by the Scottish Funding Council, grant reference HR09011, and contributing institutions) and PLT acknowledges support from ONR grant N00014‐15‐1‐2553.


  • anthropogenic disturbance
  • environmental impact assessments
  • marine mammals
  • nonconsumptive effects
  • population consequences
  • trait-mediated indirect interactions
  • uncertainty


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