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Tests of Density‐Dependent Habitat Selection in a Patchy Environment

Morris, Douglas W.
Ecological monographs 1987 v.57 no.4 pp. 269-281
animal density, carrying capacity, evolution, habitat preferences, microhabitats, models, prediction, regression analysis, rodents, temperate zones
A simple regression analysis can be used to assess the response of animal density to differences in habitat quality. The same test can evaluate general predictions of habitat selection theory as well as search for differences in the shapes of habitat suitability density functions, something previous tests have been unable to do. Combined with demographic or other estimates of fitness, regression tests can provide new insights into the evolution of habitat selection. Regression and fitness tests were used to explore the pattern of density—dependent habitat use in two temperate—zone rodents. The intensity of population regulation appeared to be inversely related to a habitat's carrying capacity. Variation in density—dependent habitat choice suggests new and unexpected dispersal strategies that vary with habitat heterogeneity. The predictions of the theory are complicated when habitat quality varies independently of population density. Sweepstake fitness rewards may be reaped by animals that would previously have been assumed to have made a suboptimal habitat choice. At the level of microhabitat, habitat selection models appeared to be much less capable of predicting variation in population density. Such a relation could be due to complex and inverse relationships between microhabitat quality and carrying capacity, or it could simply reflect scaling patterns in habitat selection.