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Comparative Population Ecology of Eleven Species of Rodents in the Chihuahuan Desert

James H. Brown and Zongyong Zeng
Ecology
Vol. 70, No. 5 (Oct., 1989), pp. 1507-1525
Published by: Wiley
DOI: 10.2307/1938209
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/1938209
Page Count: 19
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Comparative Population Ecology of Eleven Species of Rodents in the Chihuahuan Desert
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Abstract

Comparisons of mark-recapture data on life histories and population dynamics of the 11 commonest species of nocturnal desert rodents inhabiting our experimental study site in the Chihuahuan Desert of extreme southeastern Arizona permitted assessment of the role of evolutionary relationships and ecological factors in the coexistence of these species. The species varied greatly in population density, extent of interannual variation in abundance, timing of reproduction, extent to which reproduction was seasonal, rate of disappearance of marked individuals, frequency and distance of lifetime dispersal movements, but perhaps less so in death rate and maximum longevity. Most of the species showed positively correlated year-to-year fluctuations in population density, suggesting that they responded similarly to interannual variation in precipitation, primary production, and availability of food resources. In contrast, there were both positive and negative correlations in seasonal patterns of reproductive activity and population density. Lifetime dispersal movements were inversely related to body size, suggesting that energy constraints cause the smallest species to move among rich patches in a coarse-grained manner. Patterns of similarities and differences among closely related (congeneric and confamilial) species suggested that evolutionary constraints sometimes, but not always, limited variation in life history and demography. The relationship between population ecology and competition among these species was not clear. We interpret the diversity of life histories and population dynamics in these coexisting species to be a consequence of: (a) a productive and spatially and temporally variable environment that provides a variety of resources that may be used in different ways, (b) historical biogeographic events that have made available a large regional pool of species from which potential colonists can be drawn, and (c) differences in population ecologies among the species that evolved primarily in other environmental contexts, but that permit coexistence by enabling the species to use different resources or to use the same resources in different ways.

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