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  1. null (Ed.)
  2. Houslay, Thomas (Ed.)
  3. Abstract

    Structured population models are among the most widely used tools in ecology and evolution. Integral projection models (IPMs) use continuous representations of how survival, reproduction and growth change as functions of state variables such as size, requiring fewer parameters to be estimated than projection matrix models (PPMs). Yet, almost all published IPMs make an important assumption that size‐dependent growth transitions are or can be transformed to be normally distributed. In fact, many organisms exhibit highly skewed size transitions. Small individuals can grow more than they can shrink, and large individuals may often shrink more dramatically than they can grow. Yet, the implications of such skew for inference from IPMs has not been explored, nor have general methods been developed to incorporate skewed size transitions into IPMs, or deal with other aspects of real growth rates, including bounds on possible growth or shrinkage.

    Here, we develop a flexible approach to modelling skewed growth data using a modified beta regression model. We propose that sizes first be converted to a (0,1) interval by estimating size‐dependent minimum and maximum sizes through quantile regression. Transformed data can then be modelled using beta regression with widely available statistical tools. We demonstrate the utility of this approach using demographic data for a long‐lived plant, gorgonians and an epiphytic lichen. Specifically, we compare inferences of population parameters from discrete PPMs to those from IPMs that either assume normality or incorporate skew using beta regression or, alternatively, a skewed normal model.

    The beta and skewed normal distributions accurately capture the mean, variance and skew of real growth distributions. Incorporating skewed growth into IPMs decreases population growth and estimated life span relative to IPMs that assume normally distributed growth, and more closely approximate the parameters of PPMs that do not assume a particular growth distribution. A bounded distribution, such as the beta, also avoids the eviction problem caused by predicting some growth outside the modelled size range.

    Incorporating biologically relevant skew in growth data has important consequences for inference from IPMs. The approaches we outline here are flexible and easy to implement with existing statistical tools.

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  4. Abstract

    Structured demographic models are among the most common and useful tools in population biology. However, the introduction of integral projection models (IPMs) has caused a profound shift in the way many demographic models are conceptualized. Some researchers have argued that IPMs, by explicitly representing demographic processes as continuous functions of state variables such as size, are more statistically efficient, biologically realistic, and accurate than classic matrix projection models, calling into question the usefulness of the many studies based on matrix models. Here, we evaluate how IPMs and matrix models differ, as well as the extent to which these differences matter for estimation of key model outputs, including population growth rates, sensitivity patterns, and life spans. First, we detail the steps in constructing and using each type of model. Second, we present a review of published demographic models, concentrating on size‐based studies, which shows significant overlap in the way IPMs and matrix models are constructed and analyzed. Third, to assess the impact of various modeling decisions on demographic predictions, we ran a series of simulations based on size‐based demographic data sets for five biologically diverse species. We found little evidence that discrete vital rate estimation is less accurate than continuous functions across a wide range of sample sizes or size classes (equivalently bin numbers or mesh points). Most model outputs quickly converged with modest class numbers (≥10), regardless of most other modeling decisions. Another surprising result was that the most commonly used method to discretize growth rates for IPM analyses can introduce substantial error into model outputs. Finally, we show that empirical sample sizes generally matter more than modeling approach for the accuracy of demographic outputs. Based on these results, we provide specific recommendations to those constructing and evaluating structured population models. Both our literature review and simulations question the treatment of IPMs as a clearly distinct modeling approach or one that is inherently more accurate than classic matrix models. Importantly, this suggests that matrix models, representing the vast majority of past demographic analyses available for comparative and conservation work, continue to be useful and important sources of demographic information.

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