How climate affects extreme events and hence ecological population models

Diana C. Rypkema, Carol C. Horvitz, Shripad Tuljapurkar

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


Extreme events significantly impact ecosystems and are predicted to increase in frequency and/or magnitude with climate change. Generalized extreme value (GEV) distributions describe most ecologically relevant extreme events, including hurricanes, wildfires, and disease spread. In climate science, the GEV is widely used as an accurate and flexible tool over large spatial scales (>105 km2) to study how changes in climate shift extreme events. However, ecologists rarely use the GEV to study how climate change affects populations. Here we show how to estimate a GEV for hurricanes at an ecologically relevant (<103 km2) spatial scale, and use the results in a stochastic, empirically based, matrix population model. As a case study, we use an understory shrub in southeast Florida, USA with hurricane-driven dynamics and measure the effects of change using the stochastic population growth rate. We use sensitivities to analyze how population growth rate is affected by changes in hurricane frequency and intensity, canopy damage levels, and canopy recovery rates. Our results emphasize the importance of accurately estimating location-specific storm frequency. In a rapidly changing world, our methods show how to combine realistic extreme event and population models to assess ecological impacts and to prioritize conservation actions for at-risk populations.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere02684
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 2019


  • climate change
  • downscaling
  • extreme climatic events
  • generalized extreme value distributions
  • hurricanes
  • stochastic population models

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics


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