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Nonlinear scaling of foraging contacts with rodent population density

Journal Contribution - Journal Article

Density- dependent shifts in population processes like territoriality, reproduction, dispersal, and parasite transmission are driven by changes in contacts between individuals. Despite this, surprisingly little is known about how contacts change with density, and thus the mechanisms driving density-dependent processes. A simple linear contactdensity function is often assumed, but this is not based on a sound basis of empirical data. We addressed this question using a replicated, semi-natural experiment in which we measured contacts at feeding stations between multimammate mice, Mastomys natalensis, across ten distinct, linearly increasing densities between 10 and 272 animals/ha. Unexpectedly, unique contacts increased not linearly but sigmoidally with density, which we attribute to the species scramble competition mating system, small-scale dominance/avoidance and absence of territoriality. These results provide new insights into how species characteristics can relate to density-dependent changes in contacts, and the unexpected shape of the contactdensity function warrants that density-dependence in ecological models, such as parasite transmission models, must be parameterized with care.
Journal: Oikos
ISSN: 0030-1299
Volume: 126
Pages: 792 - 800
Publication year:2017