Advancing population ecology with integral projection models: A practical guide

Cory Merow, Johan P. Dahlgren, C. Jessica E. Metcalf, Dylan Z. Childs, Margaret E.K. Evans, Eelke Jongejans, Sydne Record, Mark Rees, Roberto Salguero-Gómez, Sean M. Mcmahon

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

198 Scopus citations


Summary: Integral projection models (IPMs) use information on how an individual's state influences its vital rates - survival, growth and reproduction - to make population projections. IPMs are constructed from regression models predicting vital rates from state variables (e.g. size or age) and covariates (e.g. environment). By combining regressions of vital rates, an IPM provides mechanistic insight into emergent ecological patterns such as population dynamics, species geographic distributions or life-history strategies. Here, we review important resources for building IPMs and provide a comprehensive guide, with extensive R code, for their construction. IPMs can be applied to any stage-structured population; here, we illustrate IPMs for a series of plant life histories of increasing complexity and biological realism, highlighting the utility of various regression methods for capturing biological patterns. We also present case studies illustrating how IPMs can be used to predict species' geographic distributions and life-history strategies. IPMs can represent a wide range of life histories at any desired level of biological detail. Much of the strength of IPMs lies in the strength of regression models. Many subtleties arise when scaling from vital rate regressions to population-level patterns, so we provide a set of diagnostics and guidelines to ensure that models are biologically plausible. Moreover, IPMs can exploit a large existing suite of analytical tools developed for matrix projection models.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)99-110
Number of pages12
JournalMethods in Ecology and Evolution
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2014

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Ecological Modeling


  • Demography
  • Elasticity
  • Life history
  • Matrix projection model
  • Population growth rate
  • Population projection model
  • Sensitivity
  • Stage structure
  • Vital rates


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