, Volume 68, Issue 3, pp 383-390
Date: 28 Nov 2013

Density dependence in social behaviour: home range overlap and density interacts to affect conspecific encounter rates in a gregarious ungulate

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Sociality is poorly understood in the context of population processes. We used wild, female elk (Cervus canadensis) equipped with proximity-logging radio collars (n = 62) from Manitoba, Canada (2007–2009), to test for modifying effects of population density (two areas: 0.42 and 0.22 animals/km2) on the relationship between two measures of sociality. This included the rate at which collared individuals encountered one another per year (encounters logged as animals ranging to within 1.4 m of each other) and the extent to which animals overlapped in annual home range (proportion of shared minimum convex polygon ranges). Overlap was significantly greater in the high density area compared to that of the low, but not if we only considered individuals that directly encountered each other, implying that familiar individuals will maintain a constant degree of range overlap regardless of density. Encounter rate was nonlinearly related to home range overlap. This relationship was also density-dependent, exhibiting negative density dependence at high proportions of overlap, primarily in the high density subpopulation. Sociality, as defined by two interacting measures of behaviour—encounter rate and home range overlap—exhibits a complex nonlinear relationship; we discuss the implications of these results as they pertain to sociobiology, resource competition, and pathogen transmission.

Communicated by K. E. Ruckstuhl