Concurrent effects of age class and food distribution on immigration success and population dynamics in a small mammal



  1. During the settlement stage of dispersal, the outcome of conflicts between residents and immigrants should depend on the social organization of resident populations as well as on individual traits of immigrants, such as their age class, body mass and/or behaviour.

  2. We have previously shown that spatial distribution of food influences the social organization of female bank voles (Myodes glareolus). Here, we aimed to determine the relative impact of food distribution and immigrant age class on the success and demographic consequences of female bank vole immigration. We manipulated the spatial distribution of food within populations having either clumped or dispersed food. After a pre-experimental period, we released either adult immigrants or juvenile immigrants, for which we scored sociability and aggressiveness prior to introduction.

  3. We found that immigrant females survived less well and moved more between populations than resident females, which suggest settlement costs. However, settled juvenile immigrants had a higher probability to reproduce than field-born juveniles.

  4. Food distribution had little effects on the settlement success of immigrant females. Survival and settlement probabilities of immigrants were influenced by adult female density in opposite ways for adult and juvenile immigrants, suggesting a strong adult–adult competition. Moreover, females of higher body mass at release had a lower probability to survive, and the breeding probability of settled immigrants increased with their aggressiveness and decreased with their sociability.

  5. Prior to the introduction of immigrants, resident females were more aggregated in the clumped food treatment than in the dispersed food treatment, but immigration reversed this relationship. In addition, differences in growth trajectories were seen during the breeding season, with populations reaching higher densities when adult immigrants were introduced in a plot with dispersed food, or when juvenile immigrants were introduced in a plot with clumped food.

  6. These results indicate the relative importance of intrinsic and extrinsic factors on immigration success and demographic consequences of dispersal and are of relevance to conservation actions, such as reinforcement of small populations.