Settlement in empty versus occupied habitats: an experimental study on bank voles
Despite the recognised importance of colonisation (settlement in empty habitats) and immigration (settlement in an established population) to species persistence and evolution few have investigated these processes in territorial mammals and how they affect species’ traits. We translocated female bank voles (Myodes glareolus) onto an island (2.58 ha) in a two-stage experiment (stage 1: colonisation of empty population space and stage 2: immigration into an established population) to test (1) if colonisers and immigrants differ in probability of settlement and pregnancy, and (2) if settlement is affected by cues of conspecifics, i.e., simulated deserted home ranges (SDHR) and resident presence. Density was kept well below saturation in 8 temporally distinct population replicates over 3 years. SDHR and resident presence neither attracted nor repelled colonisers and immigrants, respectively, and settlement was not different from a random model. Probability of settlement tended to be higher in colonisers than immigrants and the probability of pregnancy was significantly higher in colonisers; immigrants settling within the home range of residents had nearly zero probability of pregnancy. Colonisation of empty habitat patches selected based on physical or resource based habitat features is apparently the optimal settlement strategy of dispersing voles, because cues from conspecifics may provide ambiguous information and social factors may inhibit settlement or delay reproduction in immigrants even at low population density.
KeywordsConspecific attraction Habitat selection Myodes Social fence Translocation
The project was supported by grants from the Nansen endowment and the Research Council of Norway (NAVF project 100720/410 and 182612). We thank two anonymous referees for constructive comments on the manuscript. The experiment complied with the laws of Norway.
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