Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology

, Volume 68, Issue 3, pp 383–390 | Cite as

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

  • Eric Vander WalEmail author
  • Michel P. Laforge
  • Philip D. McLoughlin
Original Paper


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.


Cervus canadensis Density dependence Elk Encounter rate Sociality 



Funding and logistical support was provided primarily by Parks Canada Agency, the Natural Science and Engineering Research Council of Canada (F. Messier, P.D. McLoughlin), and PrioNet Canada. P. Simpson and B. Simpson adroitly flew elk relocation flights and C. Wilson, T. Vandenbrink, and T. Shury efficiently and safely handled elk. R. Grzela, S. McKay, R. Robinson, S. Johnstone, J. Dillabough, B. Blackbird, S. Boychuk, S. Helms, A. Ledden, and M. Benson assisted with monitoring collared animals. Thanks to T. Sallows, D. Bergeson, and K. Kingdon at Parks Canada for their commitment to this research and to F. Messier, R. K. Brook, and F. Pelletier for support while writing this manuscript. Also, thanks to Kathreen Ruckstuhl and a number of anonymous reviewers whose suggestions markedly improved our work.

Ethical Standards

Our study, which occurred in Canada, complied with the current laws of the country at the time. Our research followed Animal Care Protocol #20060067 of the University of Saskatchewan following the guidelines of the Canadian Council on Animal Care.

Supplementary material

265_2013_1652_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (540 kb)
ESM 1 (PDF 540 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Eric Vander Wal
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  • Michel P. Laforge
    • 1
  • Philip D. McLoughlin
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of BiologyUniversity of SaskatchewanSaskatoonCanada
  2. 2.Département de biologieUniversité de SherbookeSherbrookeCanada

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