On the interpretation and application of mean times to extinction

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As a metric of population viability, conservation biologists routinely predict the mean time to extinction (MTE). Interpretation of MTE depends on the underlying distribution of times to extinction (DTE). Despite claims to the contrary, all information regarding extinction risk can be obtained from this single statistic, the MTE, provided the DTE is exponential. We discuss the proper interpretation of MTE and illustrate how to calculate any population viability statistic when only the MTE is known and the DTE is assumed to be exponential. We also discuss the restrictive assumptions underlying the exponential DTE and the conditions under which alternative models for the DTE are preferable to the conventional (exponential) model. Despite superficial similarities between the exponential and alternative DTEs, several key differences can lead to substantially different interpretations of the MTE.

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Biodiversity and Conservation