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Keywords:

  • Allee effect;
  • bighorn sheep;
  • population dynamics;
  • predation;
  • risk effect;
  • ungulate

Ecology Letters (2011) 14: 358–363

Abstract

Negative density dependence is an important driver of population dynamics of large vertebrates. Allee effects (positive density dependence), however, can affect small populations. Allee effects can be generated by predation and recent research has revealed potentially important indirect effects of predation on population dynamics. For wild populations, however, quantification of both Allee effects and indirect effects of predation remains scarce. We monitored for 27 years a bighorn sheep (Ovis canadensis) population that declined dramatically as episodes of cougar (Puma concolor) predation depressed survival. Predation led to a positive relationship between lamb survival and population size below a threshold, and to an overall positive relationship between yearling and adult ewe survival and population size. During years of high predation, lambs also suffer mortality through reduced growth, contributing a third of the total impact of predation on lamb survival. There was no positive association between population growth and population size, probably because growth was affected by several factors other than predation, including disease. Our results support the contention that predator-driven component Allee effects may exacerbate the effects of other environmental drivers and increase the risk of extinction of small populations.