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Timing of precipitation in an arid environment: Effects on population performance of a large herbivore
AuthorHeffelfinger, Levi J.
Stewart, Kelley M.
Bush, Anthony P.
Sedinger, James S.
Darby, Neal W.
Bleich, Vernon C.
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Climate models predict that shifts in temperature and precipitation patterns are likely to occur across the globe. Changing climate will likely have strong effects on arid environments as a result of increased temperatures, increasing frequency and intensity of droughts, and less consistent pulses of rainfall. Therefore, understanding the link between patterns of precipitation, temperature, and population performance of species occupying these environments will continue to increase in importance as climatic shifts occur within these natural ecosystems. We sought to evaluate how individual, maternal, population, and environmental, particularly temperature and precipitation, level factors influence population performance of a large herbivore in an arid environment. We used mule deer (Odocoileus hemionus) as a representative species and quantified juvenile survival to test hypotheses about effects of environmental factors on population performance. Precipitation events occurring in mid- to late-pregnancy (January-April) leading to spring green-up, as indexed by normalized difference in vegetation index, had the strongest positive effect on juvenile survival and recruitment. In addition, larger neonates had an increased probability of survival. Our findings indicate that timing and amount of precipitation prior to parturition have strong influences on maternal nutritional condition, which was passed on to young. These results have important implications for understanding how animal populations may benefit from timing of precipitation during spring and prior to parturition, especially in arid environments.
|Ecology and Evolution
|Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International