With Allee effects, life for the social carnivore is complicated
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- Sanderson, C.E., Jobbins, S.E. & Alexander, K.A. Popul Ecol (2014) 56: 417. doi:10.1007/s10144-013-0410-5
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Anthropogenic modification of the landscape, resultant habitat loss, and decades of persecution have resulted in severe decline and fragmentation of large carnivore populations worldwide. Infectious disease is also identified as a primary threat to many carnivores. In wildlife species, population demography and group persistence are strongly influenced by group or population size. This is referred to as the Allee effect, in which a population or group is at an increased risk of extinction when the number or density of individuals falls below some threshold due to ecological and/or genetic factors. However, in social mammalian species, the relationship between the number of individuals and the risk of extinction is complicated because aggregation may enhance pathogen exposure and transmission. Although theoretical studies of the interaction between infectious disease transmission and Allee effects reveal important implications for carnivore management and population extinction risk, information about the interaction has yet to be synthesized. In this paper, we assess life history strategies of medium to large carnivore species (≥2.4 kg) and their influence on population dynamics, with a special focus on infectious disease. While declining population trends are observed in 73 % of all carnivores (both social and solitary species), infectious disease is identified as a significant cause of population decline in 45 % of social carnivores and 3 % of solitary carnivores. Furthermore, where carnivores suffer a combination of rapid population decline and infectious disease, Allee effects may be more likely to impact social as compared to solitary carnivore populations. These potentially additive interactions may strongly influence disease transmission dynamics and population persistence potential. Understanding the mechanisms that can result in Allee effects in endangered carnivore populations and the manner in which infectious disease interfaces at this nexus may define the outcome of developed conservation strategies.