Can Individual and Social Patterns of Resource Use Buffer Animal Populations against Resource Decline?

Sam C. Banks, David B. Lindenmayer, Jeff T. Wood, Lachlan McBurney, David Blair, Michaela D J Blyton

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Species in many ecosystems are facing declines of key resources. If we are to understand and predict the effects of resource loss on natural populations, we need to understand whether and how the way animals use resources changes under resource decline. We investigated how the abundance of arboreal marsupials varies in response to a critical resource, hollow-bearing trees. Principally, we asked what mechanisms mediate the relationship between resources and abundance? Do animals use a greater or smaller proportion of the remaining resource, and is there a change in cooperative resource use (den sharing), as the availability of hollow trees declines? Analyses of data from 160 sites surveyed from 1997 to 2007 showed that hollow tree availability was positively associated with abundance of the mountain brushtail possum, the agile antechinus and the greater glider. The abundance of Leadbeater's possum was primarily influenced by forest age. Notably, the relationship between abundance and hollow tree availability was significantly less than 1:1 for all species. This was due primarily to a significant increase by all species in the proportional use of hollow-bearing trees where the abundance of this resource was low. The resource-sharing response was weaker and inconsistent among species. Two species, the mountain brushtail possum and the agile antechinus, showed significant but contrasting relationships between the number of animals per occupied tree and hollow tree abundance. The discrepancies between the species can be explained partly by differences in several aspects of the species' biology, including body size, types of hollows used and social behaviour as it relates to hollow use. Our results show that individual and social aspects of resource use are not always static in response to resource availability and support the need to account for dynamic resource use patterns in predictive models of animal distribution and abundance.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere53672
Pages (from-to)1-11
Number of pages11
JournalPLoS One
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 8 Jan 2013
Externally publishedYes


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