Population ecology of Mus musculus on Mana Island, New Zealand

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Abstract

Feral house mice (Mus musculus) living on 217 ha Mana Island, New Zealand, with no mammalian predators, were snap-trapped and autopsied. A 7-month breeding season took the population from a spring low to extremely high density in autumn. Litters were largest in the middle of the breeding season, and significantly larger on Mana than on the New Zealand mainland. Litter size in early pregnancy was similar for young and old mice but more embryos were resorbed by old females. The breeding season ended in April when adult females stopped ovulating and young failed to mature. When the population declined over winter no animals bred, they all lost weight, and even previously mature males lost their reproductive ability. Mice continue to grow throughout life and become larger than mice in most populations on the New Zealand mainland. The regular and pronounced seasonal pulse in Mana's mouse population contrasts with longer-term fluctuations generally seen in mainland populations at lower density in indigenous forest. These differences may be explained by absence of predators, habitat features or lack of any chance to disperse on the island.

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