Minimum viable populations: is there a 'magic number' for conservation practitioners?

Trends in Ecology & Evolution
Curtis H FlatherPhilip A Stephens

Abstract

Establishing species conservation priorities and recovery goals is often enhanced by extinction risk estimates. The need to set goals, even in data-deficient situations, has prompted researchers to ask whether general guidelines could replace individual estimates of extinction risk. To inform conservation policy, recent studies have revived the concept of the minimum viable population (MVP), the population size required to provide some specified probability of persistence for a given period of time. These studies conclude that long-term persistence requires ≥5000 adult individuals, an MVP threshold that is unaffected by taxonomy, life history or environmental conditions. Here, we re-evaluate this suggestion. We find that neither data nor theory supports its general applicability, raising questions about the utility of MVPs for conservation planning.

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