The understanding of population dynamics is a central issue for managing large mammals. Modeling has allowed population ecologists to increase their knowledge about complex systems and better predict population responses to diverse perturbations. Mountain goats (Oreamnos americanus) appear sensitive to harvest, but the relative influence of survival and reproductive rates on their population dynamics are not well understood. Using longitudinal data on age- and sex-specific survival and reproduction from a marked mountain goat population in Alberta, Canada, we built a stage-class matrix model to predict short-term numerical changes for 11 other goat populations in Alberta for which the only data available were from annual aerial surveys. Overall, the model provided an acceptable fit to changes in population size for 8 of 12 populations. Temporal trends in population size were underestimated in 2 populations and overestimated in another 2, suggesting that these populations had different vital rates than those of the intensively studied population. Sensitivity analyses revealed that the survival of mature females (aged 5 yr and older) had the greatest elasticity for population growth. Modeled management scenarios indicated that nonselective yearly harvest rates above 1% of goats aged 2 years and older were not sustainable over the short-term for some populations. The simulations also revealed that small (n = 25) and medium-size (n = 50) populations, which correspond to most goat populations in Alberta, had high extinction risk (18 to 82% over 40 years), even in the absence of harvest. Our results confirm that mountain goat populations are very sensitive to harvest, indicate that wildlife managers should prevent female harvest, and suggest that although a high demand for goat hunting exists in Alberta, most populations in this province—and probably small populations elsewhere—cannot withstand exploitation.
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Vol. 70 • No. 4