Bridging gaps in demographic analysis with phylogenetic imputation

Tamora James, Roberto Salguero-Gómez, Owen Jones, Dylan Z. Childs, Andrew P. Beckerman

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Abstract

Phylogenetically informed imputation methods have rarely been applied to estimate missing values in demographic data but may be a powerful tool for reconstructing vital rates of survival, maturation, and fecundity for species of conservation concern. Imputed vital rates could be used to parameterize demographic models to explore how populations respond when vital rates are perturbed. We used standardized vital rate estimates for 50 bird species to assess the use of phylogenetic imputation to fill gaps in demographic data. We calculated imputation accuracy for vital rates of focal species excluded from the data set either singly or in combination and with and without phylogeny, body mass, and life-history trait data. We used imputed vital rates to calculate demographic metrics, including generation time, to validate the use of imputation in demographic analyses. Covariance among vital rates and other trait data provided a strong basis to guide imputation of missing vital rates in birds, even in the absence of phylogenetic information. Mean NRMSE for null and phylogenetic models differed by <0.01 except when no vital rates were available or for vital rates with high phylogenetic signal (Pagel's λ > 0.8). In these cases, including body mass and life-history trait data compensated for lack of phylogenetic information: mean normalized root mean square error (NRMSE) for null and phylogenetic models differed by <0.01 for adult survival and <0.04 for maturation rate. Estimates of demographic metrics were sensitive to the accuracy of imputed vital rates. For example, mean error in generation time doubled in response to inaccurate estimates of maturation time. Accurate demographic data and metrics, such as generation time, are needed to inform conservation planning processes, for example through International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List assessments and population viability analysis. Imputed vital rates could be useful in this context but, as for any estimated model parameters, awareness of the sensitivities of demographic model outputs to the imputed vital rates is essential.

Original languageEnglish
JournalConservation Biology
DOIs
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 17. Oct 2020

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