Estimates of minimum viable population sizes for vertebrates and factors influencing those estimates

David H. Reed*, Julian J. O'Grady, Barry W. Brook, Jonathan D. Ballou, Richard Frankham

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    313 Citations (Scopus)


    Population size is a major determinant of extinction risk. However, controversy remains as to how large populations need to be to ensure persistence. It is generally believed that minimum viable population sizes (MVPs) would be highly specific, depending on the environmental and life history characteristics of the species. We used population viability analysis to estimate MVPs for 102 species. We define a minimum viable population size as one with a 99% probability of persistence for 40 generations. The models are comprehensive and include age-structure, catastrophes, demographic stochasticity, environmental stochasticity, and inbreeding depression. The mean and median estimates of MVP were 7316 and 5816 adults, respectively. This is slightly larger than, but in general agreement with, previous estimates of MVP. MVPs did not differ significantly among major taxa, or with latitude or trophic level, but were negatively correlated with population growth rate and positively correlated with the length of the study used to parameterize the model. A doubling of study duration increased the estimated MVP by approximately 67%. The increase in extinction risk is associated with greater temporal variation in population size for models built from longer data sets. Short-term studies consistently underestimate the true variances for demographic parameters in populations. Thus, the lack of long-term studies for endangered species leads to widespread underestimation of extinction risk. The results of our simulations suggest that conservation programs, for wild populations, need to be designed to conserve habitat capable of supporting approximately 7000 adult vertebrates in order to ensure long-term persistence.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)23-34
    Number of pages12
    JournalBiological Conservation
    Issue number1
    Publication statusPublished - Sept 2003


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