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Am Nat. 2013 Mar;181(3):331-43. doi: 10.1086/669146. Epub 2013 Jan 18.

Density-dependent energy use contributes to the self-thinning relationship of cohorts.

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  • 1Evolution and Ecology Research Centre, and School of Biological, Earth and Environmental Science, University of New South Wales, Sydney, New South Wales 2052, Australia.


In resource-limited populations, an increase in average body size can occur only with a decline in abundance. This is known as self-thinning, and the decline in abundance in food-limited populations is considered proportional to the scaling of metabolism with body mass. This popular hypothesis may be inaccurate, because self-thinning populations can also experience density-dependent competition, which could alter their energy use beyond the predictions of metabolic scaling. This study tested whether density-dependent competition has an energetic role in self-thinning, by manipulating the abundance of the fish Macquaria novemaculeata and tank size to partition the effects of competition from metabolic scaling. We found that self-thinning can be density dependent and that changes in intraspecific competition may be more influential than metabolic scaling on self-thinning relationships. The energetic mechanism we propose is that density-dependent competition causes variation in the allocation of energy to growth, which alters the energetic efficiency of self-thinning cohorts. The implication is that food-limited cohorts and populations with competitive strategies that encourage fast-growing individuals will have less body mass at equilibrium and higher mortality rates. This finding sheds light on the processes structuring populations and can be used to explain inconsistencies in the mass-abundance scaling of assemblages and communities (the energetic-equivalence rule).

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