Allometric scaling of minimal mammal densities

  • Silva M
  • Downing J
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Abstract

Minimum viable densities have rarely been determined directly. Theoretical analyses, based on empirical relationships between average mammal densities, suggest that minimum densities of viable populations are lower for larger mammals. This suggestion has been cast into doubt by other field studies showing populations of small insects and birds at very low densities. We collected 143 of the closest approximations of minimum viable density available, those of minimal, rare and endangered mammal populations. We found that minimal density decreases as the -0.68 power of body mass. Minimal densities of small mammals are 1000 times those of the largest species. The correlation between minimum viable population density and body mass is negative in the majority of the mammalian taxonomic orders. Although minimum density is, on average, 10% of mean population density, viable population densities of herbivores are 13 times those of carnivores and insectivores. Populations in the wet tropics can apparently sustain themselves at densities much lower than those in temperate climates.

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Authors

  • M. Silva

  • J. A. Downing

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