Ecological drivers of guanaco recruitment: variable carrying capacity and density dependence
MARINO A.; PASCUAL M.; BALDI R.
Lugar: Berlin; Año: 2014 vol. 175 p. 1189 - 1200
Ungulates living in predator-free reserves offer the opportunity to study the influence of food limitation on population dynamics without the potentially confounding effects of top-down regulation or livestock competition. We assessed the influence of relative forage availability and population density on guanaco recruitment in two predator-free reserves in eastern Patagonia, with contrasting scenarios of population density. We also explored the relative contribution of the observed recruitment to population growth using a deterministic linear model to test the assumption that the studied populations were closed units. The observed densities increased twice as fast as our theoretical populations, indicating that marked immigration has taken place during the recovery phase experienced by both populations, thus we rejected the closed-population assumption. Regarding the factors driving variation in recruitment, in the low- to medium-density setting, we found a positive linear relationship between recruitment and surrogates of annual primary production, whereas no density dependence was detected. In contrast, in the high-density scenario, both annual primary production and population density showed marked effects, indicating a positive relationship between recruitment and per capita food availability above a food-limitation threshold. Our results support the idea that environmental carrying capacity fluctuates in response to climatic variation, and that these fluctuations have relevant consequences for herbivore dynamics, such as amplifying density dependence in drier years. We conclude that including the coupling between environmental variability in resources and density dependence is crucial to model ungulate population dynamics; to overlook temporal changes in carrying capacity may even mask density dependence as well as other important processes.