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Effect of additional food and water on house mice in a semi-arid agricultural environment in Australia



Abstract  We tested the hypothesis that providing high-quality food and water would increase reproduction, survival and population size in house mice living in a semi-arid cropping environment in the mallee region of western Victoria, Australia, where outbreaks of house mice (Mus domesticus) occur irregularly. We employed a factorial design and applied treatments along internal fencelines (16 sites), adjacent to cropping areas, from November 2003 to July 2004. Population abundance was low during the experiment (0–26 mice per site), and the summer rainfall was below average. We confirmed that mice used the supplementary food and water through a reduction in weight of food containers over time and for water through the presence of Rhodamine B in blood samples and positive bands in whiskers. Abundant food was also available through grain spilt on the ground after harvest of the wheat and barley crops. There was some evidence of increased breeding on sites where water was added, but no effect of food or food and water in combination. Sites where free water was available had marginally higher populations over summer (∼2 more mice on average; P = 0.07). This difference was well below any biologically meaningful effect. Mice were 0.9 g heavier on sites where water was added (P = 0.04), and were in better condition (P = 0.03). The addition of high-quality food did not affect mouse population dynamics, and the addition of water resulted in only marginal responses for some demographic characteristics. We conclude that other factors appear to be important for limiting mouse population growth in summer and autumn.