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Depensation: evidence, models and implications


Martin Liermann, National Marine Fisheries Service, North-west Fisheries Science Center, 2725 Montlake Blvd. E., Seattle, WA 98112–2013, USATel: +206 860 6781Fax: +206 860 3335E-mail:


We review the evidence supporting depensation, describe models of two depensatory mechanisms and how they can be included in population dynamics models and discuss the implications of depensation. The evidence for depensation can be grouped into four mechanisms: reduced probability of fertilisation, impaired group dynamics, conditioning of the environment and predator saturation. Examples of these mechanisms come from a broad range of species including fishes, arthropods, birds, mammals and plants. Despite the large number of studies supporting depensatory mechanisms, there is very little evidence of depensation that is strong enough to be important in a population’s dynamics. However, because factors such as demographic and environmental variability make depensatory population dynamics difficult to detect, this lack of evidence should not be interpreted as evidence that depensatory dynamics are rare and unimportant. The majority of depensatory models are based on reduced probability of fertilisation and predator saturation. We review the models of these mechanisms and different ways they can be incorporated in population dynamics models. Finally, we discuss how depensation may affect optimal harvesting, pest control and population viability analysis.