TitleStochastic population dynamics in populations of western terrestrial garter snakes with divergent life histories
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2011
AuthorsMiller, DA, Clark, WR, Arnold, SJ, Bronikowski, AM
KeywordsCalifornia (USA) garter snake life history stochastic demography Thamnophis elegans table response experiments thamnophis-elegans environmental stochasticity variable environments growth-rate delayed reproduction poecilia-reticulata natural-selection vit, deterministic demography Eagle Lake

Comparative evaluations of population dynamics in species with temporal and spatial variation in life-history traits are rare because they require long-term demographic time series from multiple populations. We present such an analysis using demographic data collected during the interval 1978-1996 for six populations of western terrestrial garter snakes (Thamnophis elegans) from two evolutionarily divergent ecotypes. Three replicate populations from a slow-living ecotype, found in mountain meadows of northeastern California, were characterized by individuals that develop slowly, mature late, reproduce infrequently with small reproductive effort, and live longer than individuals of three populations of a fast-living ecotype found at lakeshore locales. We constructed matrix population models for each of the populations based on 8-13 years of data per population and analyzed both deterministic dynamics based on mean annual vital rates and stochastic dynamics incorporating annual variation in vital rates. (1) Contributions of highly variable vital rates to fitness (lambda(s)) were buffered against the negative effects of stochastic variation, and this relationship was consistent with differences between the meadow (M-slow) and lakeshore (L-fast) ecotypes. (2) Annual variation in the proportion of gravid females had the greatest negative effect among all vital rates on lambda(s). The magnitude of variation in the proportion of gravid females and its effect on lambda(s) was greater in M-slow than L-fast populations. (3) Variation in the proportion of gravid females, in turn, depended on annual variation in prey availability, and its effect on lambda(s) was 4-23 times greater in M-slow than L-fast populations. In addition to differences in stochastic dynamics between ecotypes, we also found higher mean mortality rates across all age classes in the L-fast populations. Our results suggest that both deterministic and stochastic selective forces have affected the evolution of divergent life-history traits in the two ecotypes, which, in turn, affect population dynamics. M-slow populations have evolved life-history traits that buffer fitness against direct effects of variation in reproduction and that spread lifetime reproduction across a greater number of reproductive bouts. These results highlight the importance of long-term demographic and environmental monitoring and of incorporating temporal dynamics into empirical studies of life-history evolution.