Population viability analysis PVA) has become a commonly used tool in endangered species management. There is no single process that constitutes PVA, but all approaches have in common an assessment of a population's risk of extinction (or quasi extinction) or its projected population growth either under current conditions or expected from proposed management. As model sophistication increases, and software programs that facilitate PVA without the need for modeling expertise become more available, there is greater potential for the misuse of models and increased confusion over interpreting their results. Consequently, we discuss the practical use and limitations of PVA in conservation planning, and we discuss some emerging issues of PVA. We review extant issues that have become prominent in PVA, including spatially explicit modeling, sensitivity analysis, incorporating genetics into PVA, PVA in plants, and PVA software packages, but our coverage of emerging issues is not comprehensive. We conclude that PVA is a powerful tool in conservation biology for comparing alternative research plans and relative extinction risks among species, but we suggest caution in its use: (1) because PVA is a model, its validity depends on the appropriateness of the model's structure and data quality; (2) results should be presented with appropriate assessment of confidence; (3) model construction and results should be subject to external review, and (4) model structure, input, and results should be treated as hypotheses to be tested. We also suggest (5) restricting the definition of PVA to development of a formal quantitative model, (6) focusing more research on determining how pervasive density-dependence feedback is across species, and (7) not using PVA to determine minimum population size or (8) the specific probability of reaching extinction. The most appropriate use of PVA may be for comparing the relative effects of potential management actions on population growth or persistence.
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