Minimum viable population

Minimum viable population (MVP) is a lower bound on the population of a species, such that it can survive in the wild. This term is commonly used in the fields of biology, ecology, and conservation biology. MVP refers to the smallest possible size at which a biological population can exist without facing extinction from natural disasters or demographic, environmental, or genetic stochasticity.[1] The term "population" is defined as a group of interbreeding individuals in similar geographic area that undergo negligible gene flow with other groups of the species[2]. Typically, MVP is used to refer to a wild population, but can also be used for ex-situ conservation (Zoo populations).

Minium Viable Population Graph
A graphical representation of population growth over total population. K is the carrying capacity, and MVP is minimum viable population.


The definition for what constitutes a sufficient numbers for preservation varies between a minimum viable population models, as no population can be guaranteed survival in a stochastic environment, and as such there may be many calculated MVPs for a given species[3]. Some common perimeters for success include estimating the population size necessary to ensure between 99 percent probability of survival 1,000 years into the future, or 95 percent probability of survival over several centuries[4]. However, some models use generations as a unit of time rather than years to maintain consistency across taxa[5] The MVP can be estimated using computer simulations for population viability analyses (PVA). These analyses model populations using demographic and environmental information to project future population dynamics. The probability assigned to a PVA is arrived at after repeating the environmental simulation thousands of times.


Laysan Duck Brood
In 1912, the Laysan duck had an effective population size of 7 at most.

Small populations are at a greater risk of extinction than larger populations due to small populations having less capacity to recover from stochastic events, which may be divided into four sources:[6]

Demographic stochasticity

  • Demographic stochasticity is often only a driving force toward extinction in populations with fewer than 50 individuals. Random events influence the fecundity and survival of individuals in a population, and in larger populations these events tend to be stabilized toward a steady growth rate. However, in small populations there is much more variance, which can in turn cause extinction[6].

Environmental stochasticity

  • Small, random changes in the abiotic and biotic components of the ecosystem that a population inhabits fall under environmental stochasticity. Examples of environmental stochasticity may include changes in climate over time, or arrival of another species that competes for resources. Unlike the other three sources of extinction, environmental stochasticity tends to effect populations of all sizes[6].

Natural catastrophes

  • An extension of environmental stochasticy, natural disasters are random, large scale events such as blizzards, droughts, storms, or fires that reduce a population directly over a short period of time. Natural catastrophes are the hardest events to predict, and MVP models often have difficulty factoring these in[6].

Genetic stochasticity

  • Small populations are vulnerable to genetic stochasticity, the random change in allele frequencies over time, also known as genetic drift. Genetic drift can cause alleles to disappear from a population, and this lowers genetic diversity. In small populations, low genetic diversity can increase rates of inbreeding which can result in inbreeding depression, where a population made up of genetically similar individuals loses fitness. Inbreeding in a population reduced fitness by causing deleterious recessive alleles to become more common in the population, and also by reducing adaptive potential. The so-called "50/500 rule", where a population needs 50 individuals to prevent inbreeding depression, and 500 individuals to guard against genetic drift at-large, is an oft-used benchmark for a MVP, but recent study suggests that this guideline falls short to cover a wide diversity of taxa[4][6].


MVP does not take external intervention into account. Thus, it is useful for conservation managers and environmentalists; a population may be increased above the MVP using a captive breeding program, or by bringing other members of the species in from other reserves.

There is naturally some debate on the accuracy of PVAs, since a wide variety of assumptions generally are required for future forecasting; however, the important consideration is not absolute accuracy, but promulgation of the concept that each species indeed has an MVP, which at least can be approximated for the sake of conservation biology and Biodiversity Action Plans.[6]

There is a marked trend for insularity, surviving genetic bottlenecks and r-strategy to allow far lower MVPs than average. Conversely, taxa easily affected by inbreeding depression – having high MVPs – are often decidedly K-strategists, with low population densities while occurring over a wide range. An MVP of 500 to 1,000 has often been given as an average for terrestrial vertebrates when inbreeding or genetic variability is ignored.[7][8] When inbreeding effects are included, estimates of MVP for many species are in the thousands. Based on a meta-analysis of reported values in the literature for many species, Traill et al. reported concerning vertebrates "a cross-species frequency distribution of MVP with a median of 4169 individuals (95% CI = 3577–5129)."[9]

See also


  1. ^ Holsinger, Kent (2007-09-04). "Types of Stochastic Threats". EEB310: Conservation Biology. University of Connecticut. Archived from the original on 2008-11-20. Retrieved 2007-11-04.
  2. ^ "population | Definition of population in English by Oxford Dictionaries". Oxford Dictionaries | English. Retrieved 2019-06-08.
  3. ^ Shaffer, Mark L. (1981-02-01). "Minimum Population Sizes for Species Conservation". BioScience. 31 (2): 131–134. doi:10.2307/1308256. ISSN 0006-3568. JSTOR 1308256.
  4. ^ a b Frankham, Richard; Bradshaw, Corey J. A.; Brook, Barry W. (2014-02-01). "Genetics in conservation management: Revised recommendations for the 50/500 rules, Red List criteria and population viability analyses". Biological Conservation. 170: 56–63. doi:10.1016/j.biocon.2013.12.036. ISSN 0006-3207.
  5. ^ O’Grady, Julian J.; Brook, Barry W.; Reed, David H.; Ballou, Jonathan D.; Tonkyn, David W.; Frankham, Richard (2006-11-01). "Realistic levels of inbreeding depression strongly affect extinction risk in wild populations". Biological Conservation. 133 (1): 42–51. doi:10.1016/j.biocon.2006.05.016. ISSN 0006-3207.
  6. ^ a b c d e f Shaffer ML (1981). "Minimum population sizes for species conservation". BioScience. 31 (2): 131–134. doi:10.2307/1308256. JSTOR 1308256.
  7. ^ Lehmkuhl J (1984). "Determining size and dispersion of minimum viable populations for land management planning and species conservation". Environmental Management. 8 (2): 167–176. Bibcode:1984EnMan...8..167L. doi:10.1007/BF01866938.
  8. ^ Thomas CD (1990). "What do real population dynamics tell us about minimum viable population sizes?". Conservation Biology. 4 (3): 324–327. doi:10.1111/j.1523-1739.1990.tb00295.x.
  9. ^ Traill, Lochran W.; Bradshaw, Corey J.A.; Brook, Barry W. (2007). "Minimum viable population size: A meta-analysis of 30 years of published estimates". Biological Conservation. 139 (1–2): 159–166. doi:10.1016/j.biocon.2007.06.011.

Bacterivores are free-living, generally heterotrophic organisms, exclusively microscopic, which obtain energy and nutrients primarily or entirely from the consumption of bacteria. Many species of amoeba are bacterivores, as well as other types of protozoans. Commonly, all species of bacteria will be prey, but spores of some species, such as Clostridium perfringens, will never be prey, because of their cellular attributes.


A copiotroph is an organism found in environments rich in nutrients, particularly carbon. They are the opposite to oligotrophs, which survive in much lower carbon concentrations.

Copiotrophic organisms tend to grow in high organic substrate conditions. For example, copiotrophic organisms grow in Sewage lagoons. They grow in organic substrate conditions up to 100x higher than oligotrophs.


Decomposers are organisms that break down dead or decaying organisms, and in doing so, they carry out the natural process of decomposition. Like herbivores and predators, decomposers are heterotrophic, meaning that they use organic substrates to get their energy, carbon and nutrients for growth and development. While the terms decomposer and detritivore are often interchangeably used, detritivores must ingest and digest dead matter via internal processes while decomposers can directly absorb nutrients through chemical and biological processes hence breaking down matter without ingesting it. Thus, invertebrates such as earthworms, woodlice, and sea cucumbers are technically detritivores, not decomposers, since they must ingest nutrients and are unable to absorb them externally.

Dominance (ecology)

Ecological dominance is the degree to which a taxon is more numerous than its competitors in an ecological community, or makes up more of the biomass.

Most ecological communities are defined by their dominant species.

In many examples of wet woodland in western Europe, the dominant tree is alder (Alnus glutinosa).

In temperate bogs, the dominant vegetation is usually species of Sphagnum moss.

Tidal swamps in the tropics are usually dominated by species of mangrove (Rhizophoraceae)

Some sea floor communities are dominated by brittle stars.

Exposed rocky shorelines are dominated by sessile organisms such as barnacles and limpets.

Energy Systems Language

The Energy Systems Language, also referred to as Energese, Energy Circuit Language, or Generic Systems Symbols, was developed by the ecologist Howard T. Odum and colleagues in the 1950s during studies of the tropical forests funded by the United States Atomic Energy Commission. They are used to compose energy flow diagrams in the field of systems ecology.

Feeding frenzy

In ecology, a feeding frenzy occurs when predators are overwhelmed by the amount of prey available. For example, a large school of fish can cause nearby sharks, such as the lemon shark, to enter into a feeding frenzy. This can cause the sharks to go wild, biting anything that moves, including each other or anything else within biting range. Another functional explanation for feeding frenzy is competition amongst predators. This term is most often used when referring to sharks or piranhas. It has also been used as a term within journalism.


A hatchery is a facility where eggs are hatched under artificial conditions, especially those of fish or poultry. It may be used for ex-situ conservation purposes, i.e. to breed rare or endangered species under controlled conditions; alternatively, it may be for economic reasons (i.e. to enhance food supplies or fishery resources).


A lithoautotroph or chemolithoautotroph is a microbe which derives energy from reduced compounds of mineral origin. Lithoautotrophs are a type of lithotrophs with autotrophic metabolic pathways. Lithoautotrophs are exclusively microbes; macrofauna do not possess the capability to use mineral sources of energy. Most lithoautotrophs belong to the domain Bacteria, while some belong to the domain Archaea. For lithoautotrophic bacteria, only inorganic molecules can be used as energy sources. The term "Lithotroph" is from Greek lithos (λίθος) meaning "rock" and trōphos (τροφοσ) meaning "consumer"; literally, it may be read "eaters of rock". Many lithoautotrophs are extremophiles, but this is not universally so.

Lithoautotrophs are extremely specific in using their energy source. Thus, despite the diversity in using inorganic molecules in order to obtain energy that lithoautotrophs exhibit as a group, one particular lithoautotroph would use only one type of inorganic molecule to get its energy.

Mesotrophic soil

Mesotrophic soils are soils with a moderate inherent fertility. An indicator of soil fertility is its base status, which is expressed as a ratio relating the major nutrient cations (calcium, magnesium, potassium and sodium) found there to the soil's clay percentage. This is commonly expressed in hundredths of a mole of cations per kilogram of clay, i.e. cmol (+) kg−1 clay.


A mycotroph is a plant that gets all or part of its carbon, water, or nutrient supply through symbiotic association with fungi. The term can refer to plants that engage in either of two distinct symbioses with fungi:

Many mycotrophs have a mutualistic association with fungi in any of several forms of mycorrhiza. The majority of plant species are mycotrophic in this sense. Examples include Burmanniaceae.

Some mycotrophs are parasitic upon fungi in an association known as myco-heterotrophy.


An organotroph is an organism that obtains hydrogen or electrons from organic substrates. This term is used in microbiology to classify and describe organisms based on how they obtain electrons for their respiration processes. Some organotrophs such as animals and many bacteria, are also heterotrophs. Organotrophs can be either anaerobic or aerobic.

Antonym: Lithotroph, Adjective: Organotrophic.


Overpopulation occurs when a species' population exceeds the carrying capacity of its ecological niche. It can result from an increase in births (fertility rate), a decline in the mortality rate, an increase in immigration, or an unsustainable biome and depletion of resources. When overpopulation occurs, individuals limit available resources to survive.

The change in number of individuals per unit area in a given locality is an important variable that has a significant impact on the entire ecosystem.


A planktivore is an aquatic organism that feeds on planktonic food, including zooplankton and phytoplankton.

Population bottleneck

A population bottleneck or genetic bottleneck is a sharp reduction in the size of a population due to environmental events (such as famines, earthquakes, floods, fires, disease, or droughts) or human activities (such as genocide). Such events can reduce the variation in the gene pool of a population; thereafter, a smaller population, with a smaller genetic diversity, remains to pass on genes to future generations of offspring through sexual reproduction. Genetic diversity remains lower, increasing only when gene flow from another population occurs or very slowly increasing with time as random mutations occur. This results in a reduction in the robustness of the population and in its ability to adapt to and survive selecting environmental changes, such as climate change or a shift in available resources. Alternatively, if survivors of the bottleneck are the individuals with the greatest genetic fitness, the frequency of the fitter genes within the gene pool is increased, while the pool itself is reduced.

The genetic drift caused by a population bottleneck can change the proportional random distribution of alleles and even lead to loss of alleles. The chances of inbreeding and genetic homogeneity can increase, possibly leading to inbreeding depression. Smaller population size can also cause deleterious mutations to accumulate.A slightly different form of bottleneck can occur if a small group becomes reproductively (e.g. geographically) separated from the main population, such as through a founder event, e.g. if a few members of a species successfully colonize a new isolated island, or from small captive breeding programs such as animals at a zoo. Alternatively, invasive species can undergo population bottlenecks through founder events when introduced into their invaded range.Population bottlenecks play an important role in conservation biology (see minimum viable population size) and in the context of agriculture (biological and pest control).

Population dynamics of fisheries

A fishery is an area with an associated fish or aquatic population which is harvested for its commercial or recreational value. Fisheries can be wild or farmed. Population dynamics describes the ways in which a given population grows and shrinks over time, as controlled by birth, death, and migration. It is the basis for understanding changing fishery patterns and issues such as habitat destruction, predation and optimal harvesting rates. The population dynamics of fisheries is used by fisheries scientists to determine sustainable yields.The basic accounting relation for population dynamics is the BIDE (Birth, Immigration, Death, Emigration) model, shown as:

N1 = N0 + B − D + I − Ewhere N1 is the number of individuals at time 1, N0 is the number of individuals at time 0, B is the number of individuals born, D the number that died, I the number that immigrated, and E the number that emigrated between time 0 and time 1. While immigration and emigration can be present in wild fisheries, they are usually not measured.

A fishery population is affected by three dynamic rate functions:

Birth rate or recruitment. Recruitment means reaching a certain size or reproductive stage. With fisheries, recruitment usually refers to the age a fish can be caught and counted in nets.

Growth rate. This measures the growth of individuals in size and length. This is important in fisheries where the population is often measured in terms of biomass.

Mortality. This includes harvest mortality and natural mortality. Natural mortality includes non-human predation, disease and old age.If these rates are measured over different time intervals, the harvestable surplus of a fishery can be determined. The harvestable surplus is the number of individuals that can be harvested from the population without affecting long term stability (average population size). The harvest within the harvestable surplus is called compensatory mortality, where the harvest deaths are substituting for the deaths that would otherwise occur naturally. Harvest beyond that is additive mortality, harvest in addition to all the animals that would have died naturally.

Care is needed when applying population dynamics to real world fisheries. Over-simplistic modelling of fisheries has resulted in the collapse of key stocks.

Population viability analysis

Population viability analysis (PVA) is a species-specific method of risk assessment frequently used in conservation biology.

It is traditionally defined as the process that determines the probability that a population will go extinct within a given number of years.

More recently, PVA has been described as a marriage of ecology and statistics that brings together species characteristics and environmental variability to forecast population health and extinction risk. Each PVA is individually developed for a target population or species, and consequently, each PVA is unique. The larger goal in mind when conducting a PVA is to ensure that the population of a species is self-sustaining over the long term.

Recruitment (biology)

In biology, especially marine biology, recruitment occurs when a juvenile organism joins a population, whether by birth or immigration, usually at a stage whereby the organisms are settled and able to be detected by an observer.There are two types of recruitment: closed and open.In the study of fisheries, recruitment is "the number of fish surviving to enter the fishery or to some life history stage such as settlement or maturity".

Relative abundance distribution

In the field of ecology, the relative abundance distribution (RAD) or species abundance distribution describes the relationship between the number of species observed in a field study as a function of their observed abundance. The graphs obtained in this manner are typically fitted to a Zipf–Mandelbrot law, the exponent of which serves as an index of biodiversity in the ecosystem under study.

Food webs
Example webs
Ecology: Modelling ecosystems: Other components


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