Variation in space and time: a long-term examination of density-dependent dispersal in a woodland rodent


Dispersal is a fundamental ecological process that can be affected by population density, yet studies report contrasting effects of density on propensity to disperse. In addition, the relationship between dispersal and density is seldom examined using densities measured at different spatial scales or over extensive time series. We used 51 years of trapping data to examine how dispersal by wild deer mice (Peromyscus maniculatus) was affected by changes in both local and regional population densities. We examined these patterns over both the entire time series and also in 10-year shifting windows to determine whether the nature and strength of the relationship changed through time. Probability of dispersal decreased with increased local and regional population density, and the negative effect of local density on dispersal was more pronounced in years with low regional densities. In addition, the strength of negative density-dependent dispersal changed through time, ranging from very strong in some decades to absent in other periods of the study. Finally, while females were less likely to disperse, female dispersal was more density-dependent than male dispersal. Our study shows that the relationship between density and dispersal is not temporally static and that investigations of density-dependent dispersal should consider both local and regional population densities.