North American Crane Working Group


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Mirande, Claire M., and John R. Cannon. Computer simulations of possible futures for two flocks of whooping cranes. In: Urbanek RP, Stahlecker DW, eds. 1997. Proceedings of the Seventh North American Crane Workshop, 1996 Jan 10-13, Biloxi, Mississippi. Grand Island, NE: North American Crane Working Group. pp. 181-97.


Used by permission of the North American Crane Working Group.


We conducted computer simulations using the program VORTEX (version 7) to project population sizes, growth rates, genetic diversity, and probabilities of extinction over the next 100 years for 2 flocks of whooping cranes (Grus americana), the Aransas/Wood Buffalo population and the experimental Florida population. Standard runs based on best estimates of demographic. genetic, and environmental parameter values were used as a baseline to which several alternative scenarios were compared. Results generally supported the conclusion of the earlier Population Viability Assessment (Mirande et al. 1991) that the AransaslWood Buffalo population will continue to grow steadily with less than a 1 % probability of extinction. It was noted, however, that a combination of negative factors such as shrinking habitat and increased probabilities of catastrophes accompanied by increased mortality rates could put this population at risk. Results for the Florida population were less optimistic. The standard run produced a population growth rate (r) of only 0.0026 for the next 100 years, and this shifted down to -0.0001 over a 200-year time frame. Adult mortality in this flock would have to be about 20% lower than the predicted value (10%) in order to raise growth rates to above r = 0.02. Amount and duration of supplementation of the Florida flock had minimal impacts on the long-tenn growth rate of the flock. It is the enduring rates of mortality, breeding, and disease risk that will have major effects on this population. For example, if disease risks tum out to be greater than the best-estimate scenario, this population could face a relatively high risk of extinction (17%). The formula for success in Florida is lower adult mortality, lower age of first breeding, lower disease risk, and higher productivity than the best-guess estimates. Fortunately, there are some potential management interventions (e.g., predator control, vaccines and health monitoring, selective introductions to balance the sex ratio of the flock) that may be able to push the odds in favor of success.