Incorporating uncertainty in spatial structure for viability predictions: A case study of California sea lions (Zalophus californianus californianus)

Manuela Gonzalez-Suarez, K. E. McCluney, D. Aurioles, Leah Gerber

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

25 Scopus citations


In recent years, population viability analysis has become a popular tool to assess the relative risk of extinction among populations. Viability estimates for spatially structured populations require movement data that are often unavailable. In this paper, a diffusion approximation model was used to explore the effects of different spatial scenarios resulting from assumptions about movement rates. Census data for 13 breeding islands occupied by California sea lions Zalophus californianus californianus in the Gulf of California were used to explore three potential scenarios: unlimited movement between sites (panmictic population), limited movement (several clusters of populations) and no movement between islands (isolated islands). Predicted viability estimates were different for each scenario, but contrary to expectations, the mean extinction risk estimates were generally lowest when movement was unlimited (panmictic scenario). However, despite an extensive dataset, the confidence of the viability predictions for each scenario was low. In some cases, uncertainty in predictions within a scenario was greater than differences between scenarios. Therefore, it is recommended that in situations where movement rates and spatial structure are unknown, extinction risk estimates should reflect both the confidence intervals for each risk estimate and the uncertainty resulting from different spatial scenarios. This study also provides the first estimate of population viability (considering spatial structure) for California sea lions in the Gulf of California and an evaluation of population status based on the IUCN criteria for species listing.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)219-227
Number of pages9
JournalAnimal Conservation
Issue number2
StatePublished - May 2006


  • California sea lions
  • Movement
  • PVA
  • Spatial structure

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology
  • Nature and Landscape Conservation


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