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Demographic buffering and lability have been identified as adaptive strategies to optimise fitness in a fluctuating environment. These are not mutually exclusive, however, we lack efficient methods to measure their relative importance for a given life history. Here, we decompose the stochastic growth rate (fitness) into components arising from nonlinear responses and variance-covariance of demographic parameters to an environmental driver, which allows studying joint effects of buffering and lability. We apply this decomposition for 154 animal matrix population models under different scenarios to explore how these main fitness components vary across life histories. Faster-living species appear more responsive to environmental fluctuations, either positively or negatively. They have the highest potential for strong adaptive demographic lability, while demographic buffering is a main strategy in slow-living species. Our decomposition provides a comprehensive framework to study how organisms adapt to variability through buffering and lability, and to predict species responses to climate change.

Original publication




Journal article


Ecol Lett

Publication Date



climate change, comparative study, convexity, demographic buffering, demographic lability, environmental variance, matrix population model, nonlinearity, stochasticity, temporal covariance