Variability of important vital rates challenges the demographic buffering hypothesis
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Selection is assumed to eliminate life-histories showing high variability in vital rates that have the greatest influence on population performance. Therefore, an inverse variability-importance relationship of vital rates is believed to be a universal pattern for diverse life-histories. We tested for such a relationship using multi-year demographic data on a large number of populations of two perennial plant species. Applying different approaches, we first examined the overall variability-importance relationship for the average main vital rates (survival, growth, retrogression, fecundity) per species, and then separately for each population. We found an overall inverse relationship between temporal variation and importance of the average main vital rates for both study species, but these negative species-level correlations were mainly caused by different scales of the examined vital rates. When variability-importance relationships were examined across individual demographic transitions within populations, the abundance of positive and negative correlations depended largely on the method used, and positive correlations were more common after correcting vital rates for sampling variation than when using uncorrected vital rates. Our results cast doubt on the generality of the demographic buffering hypothesis, suggesting that the inverse variability-importance relationship may not be a universal pattern when vital rates are examined for multiple populations of the same plant species.