Winter food availability limits winter survival of Mongolian gerbils (Meriones unguiculatus)
Food availability is important to the dynamics of animal social organizations or populations. However, the role of winter food availability in animal population dynamics is still controversial. We carried out an experimental study to test Lack’s hypothesis that reduced food in winter limits survival and spring numbers of breeding individuals of social groups, using the Mongolian gerbil (Meriones unguiculatus) as model species. We established 24 gerbil social groups in 24, 10 × 10 m, pens in September 2008. We provided wheat seeds as supplemental food in 12 enclosures from September 2008 to March 2009; the other 12 enclosures, not provided with supplemental food, served as controls. We live-trapped gerbils at a 2-week interval from September to April. Supplemental food during winter increased biweekly survival by 10% relative to that in control groups. Only four control social groups survived to the end of our study whereas all 12 food-supplemented social groups survived through our study period. Supplemental food also increased cumulative numbers of recruits and group sizes of gerbils. We conclude that winter food availability limits winter survival and spring social groups or population sizes of Mongolian gerbils.
KeywordsDemography Food limitation MARK Rodents Social groups Supplemental food
We thank Bin Wu, Yucai Guo, and Plant Protection Station of Taibusiqi for their help with field work. The authors thank Dr. Mike Schummer for his comments on our manuscript. Wei Liu, Xinrong Wan, and Wenqin Zhong were supported by a grant from the National Natural Science Foundation of China (Grant #: 30770292), Innovative Research Project of Chinese Academy of Sciences (KSCX2-YW-Z-1021), and the State Key Laboratory of Integrated Management of Pest Insects and Rodents. Guiming Wang was supported by the Forest and Wildlife Research Center, Mississippi State University.
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