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Am Nat. 1998 Sep;152(3):354-66. doi: 10.1086/286174.

Optimal floating and queuing strategies: consequences for density dependence and habitat loss.

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  • 1Department of Ecology and Systematics, Division of Population Biology, P.O. Box 17 (Arkadiankatu 7), FIN-00014 University of Helsinki, Finland.


Field studies of many vertebrates show that some individuals (floaters) do not defend territories even when there is space for them to do so. We show that the evolutionarily stable strategy (ESS) for the threshold territory quality at which floating takes place is that which maximizes the size of the floating population (but not the total population, breeding population, or reproductive output). The ESS is solved separately for two assumptions: whether individuals wait to occupy a single territory or multiple territories and whether queuing rules are strict or if all waiting individuals are equally likely to obtain the next territory. The four combinations of these assumptions all give the same evolutionarily stable population size of both floaters and breeders. At the ESS, only territories with expected lifetime reproductive success (LRS) exceeding 1 should be occupied, which introduces a limit to ideal habitat selection. The behavioral decision to float alters the shape of the density-dependent response, reduces the equilibrium population size, and affects the response of the population to habitat loss. Specifically, the floater: breeder ratio is directly related to average breeding habitat quality, and the floater population size will decrease more than the breeding population size if better than average quality habitat is lost.

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