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Poor horse traders: large mammals trade survival for reproduction during the process of feralization

By Sophie Grange, Patrick Duncan and Jean-Michel Gaillard


We investigated density dependence on the demographic parameters of a population of Camargue horses (Equus caballus), individually monitored and unmanaged for eight years. We also analysed the contributions of individual demographic parameters to changes in the population growth rates. The decrease in resources caused a loss of body condition. Adult male survival was not affected, but the survival of foals and adult females decreased with increasing density. Prime-aged females maintained high reproductive performance at high density, and their survival decreased. The higher survival of adult males compared with females at high density presumably results from higher investment in reproduction by mares. The high fecundity in prime-aged females, even when at high density, may result from artificial selection for high reproductive performance, which is known to have occurred in all the major domestic ungulates. Other studies suggest that feral ungulates including cattle and sheep, as these horses, respond differently from wild ungulates to increases in density, by trading adult survival for reproduction. As a consequence, populations of feral animals should oscillate more strongly than their wild counterparts, since they should be both more invasive (as they breed faster), and more sensitive to harsh environmental conditions (as the population growth rate of long-lived species is consistently more sensitive to a given proportional change in adult survival than to the same change in any other vital rate). If this principle proves to be general, it has important implications for management of populations of feral ungulates

Topics: Research Article
Publisher: The Royal Society
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Provided by: PubMed Central
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