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The adequacy of aging techniques in vertebrates for rapid estimation of population mortality rates from age distributions

journal contribution
posted on 01.02.2019, 00:00 authored by Meijuan Zhao, C A J Klaassen, Simeon LisovskiSimeon Lisovski, Marcel KlaassenMarcel Klaassen
© 2018 The Authors. Ecology and Evolution published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd. As a key parameter in population dynamics, mortality rates are frequently estimated using mark–recapture data, which requires extensive, long-term data sets. As a potential rapid alternative, we can measure variables correlated to age, allowing the compilation of population age distributions, from which mortality rates can be derived. However, most studies employing such techniques have ignored their inherent inaccuracy and have thereby failed to provide reliable mortality estimates. In this study, we present a general statistical model linking birth rate, mortality rate, and population age distributions. We next assessed the reliability and data needs (i.e., sample size) for estimating mortality rate of eight different aging techniques. The results revealed that for half of the aging techniques, correlations with age varied considerably, translating into highly variable accuracies when used to estimate mortality rate from age distributions. Telomere length is generally not sufficiently correlated to age to provide reliable mortality rate estimates. DNA methylation, signal-joint T-cell recombination excision circle (sjTREC), and racemization are generally more promising techniques to ultimately estimate mortality rate, if a sufficiently high sample size is available. Otolith ring counts, otolithometry, and age-length keys in fish, and skeletochronology in reptiles, mammals, and amphibians, outperformed all other aging techniques and generated relatively accurate mortality rate estimation with a sample size that can be feasibly obtained. Provided the method chosen is minimizing and estimating the error in age estimation, it is possible to accurately estimate mortality rates from age distributions. The method therewith has the potential to estimate a critical, population dynamic parameter to inform conservation efforts within a limited time frame as opposed to mark–recapture analyses.



Ecology and evolution






1394 - 1402




Chichester, Eng.





Publication classification

C1 Refereed article in a scholarly journal; C Journal article

Copyright notice

2018, The Authors