An experimental study of declining populations

Wildlife population declines have been attributed to predation, habitat change, and other agents of decline. An experimental study applied predation (at three levels) and habitat (at two levels) treatments over two years and measured the patterns of decline of populations of a medium-sized mammal (European rabbits). A model of population dynamics and effects of the treatments predicted negative effects of both treatments and an interaction of the treatments. All populations declined during the study including the experimental controls. During the first seven months (first phase of the study) the rate of decline, as estimated by the observed monthly instantaneous rate of increase (r), was more negative (P < 0.05) with increasing predation levels but there was no effect (P > 0.05) of habitat manipulation on r. There were no significant effects of treatments on rabbit abundance, or density, during the first phase of the study. During the second phase of the study, of 12 months? duration, there were no significant (P > 0.05) effects of treatments on rabbit abundance, density, or r. There were no significant (P > 0.05) interactions of treatments on any response variable during either phase of the study. The interaction predicted by the theoretical model was not supported. Estimated abundance at the end of the study was not related (P > 0.05) to initial abundance (correlation = 0.023). The implications of the results are that such experimental studies can be used to evaluate theoretical models, though such studies may require a larger number of treatment replicates, and treatments at more extreme levels, to more clearly detect the effects of agents of population decline and their interactions.

Author Jim Hone, the late Graeme Caughley and David Grice
Date 18/10/2005
Year 2005
Secondary title Wildlife Research
Volume 32
Number 6
Pages 481-488
Notes Notes