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Winter weather affects asp viper (Vipera aspis aspis) population dynamics through susceptible juveniles
Detailed studies on mammals and birds have shown that the effects of climate variation on population dynamics often depend on population composition, because weather affects different subsets of a population differently. It is presently unknown whether this is also true for ectothermic animals such as reptiles. Here we show such an interaction between weather and demography for an ectothermic vertebrate by examining patterns of survival and reproduction in six populations of a threatened European snake, the asp viper (Vipera aspis), over six to 17 years. Survival was lowest among juvenile and highest among adult snakes. The estimated annual probability for females to become gravid ranged from 26% to 60%, and was independent of whether females had reproduced in the year before or not. Variation in juvenile survival was strongly affected by winter temperature, whereas adult survival was unaffected by winter harshness. A matrix population model showed that winter weather affected population dynamics predominantly through variation in juvenile survival, although the sensitivity of the population growth rate to juvenile survival was lower than to adult survival. This study on ectothermic vipers revealed very similar patterns to those found in long-lived endothermic birds and mammals. Our results thus show that climate and life history can interact in similar ways across biologically very different vertebrate species, and suggest that these patterns may be very general.
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