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Journal Articles BMC Ecology and Evolution Year : 2021

Breaking down population density into different components to better understand its spatial variation

Mickaël Jacquier
  • Function : Author
Jean-Michel Vandel
  • Function : Author
François Léger
Jeanne Duhayer
  • Function : Author
Sylvia Pardonnet
Sébastien Devillard
  • Function : Author
Sandrine Ruette


Abstract Background Population size and densities are key parameters in both fundamental and applied ecology, as they affect population resilience to density-dependent processes, habitat changes and stochastic events. Efficient management measures or species conservation programs thus require accurate estimates of local population densities across time and space, especially for continuously distributed species. For social species living in groups, population density depends on different components, namely the number of groups and the group size, for which relative variations in space may originate from different environmental factors. Whether resulting spatial variations in density are mostly triggered by one component or the other remains poorly known. Here, we aimed at determining the magnitude of the spatial variation in population densities of a social, group-living species, i.e. the European badger Meles meles , in 13 different sites of around 50 km 2 across France, to decipher whether sett density, group size or proportion of occupied sett variation is the main factor explaining density variation. Besides the intrinsic factors of density variation, we also assessed whether habitat characteristics such as habitat fragmentation, urbanisation, and resource availability, drove both the spatial variation of density components and local population densities. Results We proposed a new standardised approach combining use of multiple methods, namely distance sampling for estimating the density of occupied sett clusters, i.e. group density, and camera and hair trapping for genetic identification to determine the mean social group size. The density of adult badgers was on average 3.8 per km 2 (range 1.7–7.9 per km 2 ) and was positively correlated with the density of sett clusters. The density of adult badgers per site was less related to the social group size or to the proportion of occupied sett clusters. Landscape fragmentation also explained the spatial variation of adult badger density, with highly fragmented landscapes supporting lower adult densities. Density components were linked differently to environmental variables. Conclusions These results underline the need to break down population density estimates into several components in group-living species to better understand the pattern of temporal and spatial variation in population density, as different components may vary due to different ecological factors.
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Dates and versions

hal-03234643 , version 1 (05-12-2023)



Mickaël Jacquier, Jean-Michel Vandel, François Léger, Jeanne Duhayer, Sylvia Pardonnet, et al.. Breaking down population density into different components to better understand its spatial variation. BMC Ecology and Evolution, 2021, 21 (1), ⟨10.1186/s12862-021-01809-6⟩. ⟨hal-03234643⟩
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