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Learning from the games animals play: using behavior to assess spatial structure and stochasticity in natural populations

Douglas W. Morris
Annales Zoologici Fennici
Vol. 38, No. 1 (2001), pp. 37-53
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/23735749
Page Count: 17
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Learning from the games animals play: using behavior to assess spatial structure and stochasticity in natural populations
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Abstract

Population densities are heterogeneous across a variety of spatial scales. The variation in density reflects a similar variety of processes ranging from density-dependent habitat selection at small scales to independently regulated populations at much larger ones. I measured each scale with experiments capitalizing on the behavior of individual deer mice foraging in badland habitats in Alberta, Canada. First, I used patterns in rodent density along transects crossing badland and prairie habitats to measure the scale of habitat selection. Consistent with theoretical predictions, differences in the intercepts of isodars (graphs of density in adjacent habitats assuming ideal habitat selection) comparing prairie and badland densities revealed a maximum scale of habitat selection on the order of only 140 m. Second, I used foraging experiments to estimate density-dependent declines in fitness measured by the surrogate of giving-up-density of mice foraging in artificial foraging patches. Habitat selection should tend to equalize giving-up-densities among replicated, but spatially segregated, grids containing different numbers of foragers. Contrary to predictions from habitat selection theory, giving-up-densities declined with increased forager density in the majority of grids. Giving-up densities in nine of 12 grids increased linearly as population density was reduced in 1997. Giving-up densities in eight of 10 grids increased linearly with resource supplements in 1998. The results of both experiments are consistent with independent resource harvest by varying numbers of foraging mice. The identity of "outlier" grids, that showed little response to either manipulation, varied between years. The combined results document spatially-structured populations and allow us to estimate the frequency of stochastic dynamics that may have a profound influence on evolution and conservation strategies in heterogeneous landscapes.

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