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Quantifying the nature and strength of intraspecific density dependence in Arctic mosquitoes


Processes that change with density are inherent in all populations, yet quantifying density dependence with empirical data remains a challenge. This is especially true for animals recruiting in patchy landscapes because heterogeneity in habitat quality in combination with habitat choice can obscure patterns expected from density dependence. Mosquitoes (Diptera: Culicidae) typically experience strong density dependence when larvae compete for food, however, effects vary across species and contexts. If populations experience intense intraspecific density-dependent mortality then overcompensation can occur, where the number of survivors declines at high densities producing complex endogenous dynamics. To seek generalizations about density dependence in a widespread species of Arctic mosquito, Aedes nigripes, we combined a laboratory experiment, field observations, and modeling approaches. We evaluated alternative formulations of discrete population models and compared best-performing models from our lab study to larval densities from ponds in western Greenland. Survivorship curves from the lab were the best fit by a Hassell model with compensating density dependence (equivalent to a Beverton-Holt model) where peak recruitment ranged from 8 to 80 mosquitoes per liter depending on resource supply. In contrast, our field data did not show a signal of strong density dependence, suggesting that other processes such as predation may lower realized densities in nature, and that expected patterns may be obscured because larval abundance covaries with resources (cryptic density dependence). Our study emphasizes the importance of covariation between the environment, habitat choice, and density dependence in understanding population dynamics across landscapes, and demonstrates the value of pairing lab and field studies.

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Data availability material

The datasets and the code used for statistical analyses in the current study are available from the corresponding author on reasonable request.


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We thank Angela Spickard, Balt von Huene and Hanna Bliska for help with fieldwork, and Alex Stendahl, Rebecca Finger, and Francesca Governali for help with field and lab work. We thank the CH2MHill Polar Services team for logistical field support, and the managers of the Kangerlussuaq International Science Station (KISS), where we conducted lab studies. We thank Naalakkersuisut (the Government of Greenland) for permission to work in Kangerlussuaq, Greenland. Constructive feedback on the manuscript was provided by Ross Virginia, Mark McPeek, Steve Juliano, and two anonymous reviewers. We also thank Lauren Shoemaker for helpful feedback on the nonlinear model-fitting approach.


This study was supported by three National Science Foundation awards to LEC and MPA (#0801490, #1506155, #1748137). Additional funding was provided by the Dickey Center for International Understanding (McCullough fellowship to MHD).

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MHD conceived and designed the experiments, collected, and analyzed the data, and wrote the manuscript. LEC assisted in experimental design, collected data, and edited the manuscript. MPA assisted in project design, data analysis and edited the manuscript. All authors gave final approval for publication.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Melissa H. DeSiervo.

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Conflicts of interest

The authors declare no conflicts of interests.

Ethical approval

Ethics approval was not required for this study according to local legislation (Naalakkersuisut, the Government of Greenland).

Additional information

Communicated by Jill Lancaster.

Supplementary Information

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Supplementary file1 (DOCX 6682 KB)

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DeSiervo, M.H., Ayres, M.P. & Culler, L.E. Quantifying the nature and strength of intraspecific density dependence in Arctic mosquitoes. Oecologia 196, 1061–1072 (2021).

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  • Resource competition
  • Hassell model
  • Beverton-Holt
  • Overcompensation
  • Mosquitoes
  • Arctic