Integrated population modelling reveals potential drivers of demography from partially aligned data: a case study of snowy plover declines under human stressors


Knowledge of demography is essential for understanding wildlife population dynamics and developing appropriate conservation plans. However, population survey and demographic data (e.g., capture-recapture) are not always aligned in space and time, hindering our ability to robustly estimate population size and demographic processes. Integrated population models (IPMs) can provide inference for population dynamics with poorly aligned but jointly analysed population and demographic data. In this study, we used an IPM to analyse partially aligned population and demographic data of a migratory shorebird species, the snowy plover (Charadrius nivosus). Snowy plover populations have declined dramatically during the last two decades, yet the demographic mechanisms and environmental drivers of these declines remain poorly understood, hindering development of appropriate conservation strategies. We analysed 21 years (1998–2018) of partially aligned population survey, nest survey, and capture-recapture-resight data in three snowy plover populations (i.e., Texas, New Mexico, Oklahoma) in the Southern Great Plains of the US. By using IPMs we aimed to achieve better precision while evaluating the effects of wetland habitat and climatic factors (minimum temperature, wind speed) on snowy plover demography. Our IPM provided reasonable precision for productivity measures even with missing data, but population and survival estimates had greater uncertainty in years without corresponding data. Our model also uncovered the complex relationships between wetland habitat, climate, and demography with reasonable precision. Wetland habitat had positive effects on snowy plover productivity (i.e., clutch size and clutch fate), indicating the importance of protecting wetland habitat under climate change and other human stressors for the conservation of this species. We also found a positive effect of minimum temperature on snowy plover productivity, indicating potential benefits of warmth during night on their population. Based on our results, we suggest prioritizing population and capture-recapture surveys for understanding population dynamics and underlying demographic processes when data collection is limited by time and/or financial resources. Our modelling approach can be used to allocate limited conservation resources for evidence-based decision-making.


© 2021 Zhao et al. Distributed under Creative Commons CC-BY 4.0.


Climate Change, Conservation, Data Integration, Demography, Human Stressor, Imbalanced Sampling, Population Monitoring, Wetland, Ecology, Zoology, Statistics, Natural Resource Management


Zhao, Q., Heath-Acre, K., Collins, D., Conway, W., & Weegman, M. D. (2021). Integrated population modelling reveals potential drivers of demography from partially aligned data: a case study of snowy plover declines under human stressors. PeerJ, 9, e12475.