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Type of publication: Journal Article
Type of document: Full Paper

Year: 2003

Authors: Grimm, V; Dorndorf, N; Frey-Roos, F; Wissel,C; Wyszomirski,T; Arnold, W

Title: Modelling the role of social behavior in the persistence of the alpine marmot Marmota marmota.

Source: Oikos (102) 124-136.



Authors Vetmeduni Vienna:

Arnold Walter

Vetmed Research Units
Research Institute of Wildlife Ecology


Abstract:
A general rule of thumb for biological conservation obtained from simple models of hypothetical species is that for populations with strong environmental noise moderate increases in habitat size or quality do not substantially reduce extinction risk. However. whether this rule also holds for real species with complex behavior, such as social species with breeding units and reproductive suppression, is uncertain. Here we present a population viability analysis of the alpine marmot Marmota marmota which displays marked social behavior, i.e. it lives in social groups of up to twenty individuals. Our analysis is based on a long-term field study carried out in the Bavarian Alps since 1982. During the first fifteen years of this study, 687 marmots were individually marked and the movements and fate of 98 dispersing marmots were recorded with radio-telemetry. Thus, in contrast to most other viability analyses of spatially structured populations, good data about dispersal exist. A model was constructed which is individual-based, spatially explicit at the scale of clusters of neighbouring territories, and spatially implicit at larger scales, The decisive aspect of marmot life history, winter mortality, is described by logistic regression where mortality is increased by age and the severity of winter, and decreased by the number of subdominant individuals present in a group. Model predictions of group size distribution are in good agreement with the results of the field study, The model shows that the effect of sociality on winter mortality is very effective in buffering environmental harshness and fluctuations, This underpins theoretical results stating that the appropriate measure of the strength of environmental noise is the ratio between the variance of population growth rate and the intrinsic rate of increase, The lessons from our study for biological conservation are that simple, unstructured models may not be sufficient to assess the viability of species with complex behavioral traits, and that even moderate increases in habitat capacity may substantially reduce extinction risk even if environmental fluctuations seem high.


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