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Ecology. 2006 Mar;87(3):655-64.

Detection of density dependence requires density manipulations and calculation of lambda.

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  • 1Section of Integrative Biology, University of Texas, Austin, Texas 78712, USA. nfowler@uts.cc.utexas.edu


To investigate density-dependent population regulation in the perennial bunchgrass Bouteloua rigidiseta, we experimentally manipulated density by removing adults or adding seeds to replicate quadrats in a natural population for three annual intervals. We monitored the adjacent control quadrats for 14 annual intervals. We constructed a population projection matrix for each quadrat in each interval, calculated lambda, and did a life table response experiment (LTRE) analysis. We tested the effects of density upon lambda by comparing experimental and control quadrats, and by an analysis of the 15-year observational data set. As measured by effects on lambda and on N(t+1/Nt in the experimental treatments, negative density dependence was strong: the population was being effectively regulated. The relative contributions of different matrix elements to treatment effect on lambda differed among years and treatments; overall the pattern was one of small contributions by many different life cycle stages. In contrast, density dependence could not be detected using only the observational (control quadrats) data, even though this data set covered a much longer time span. Nor did experimental effects on separate matrix elements reach statistical significance. These results suggest that ecologists may fail to detect density dependence when it is present if they have only descriptive, not experimental, data, do not have data for the entire life cycle, or analyze life cycle components separately.

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