The population ecology of house mice (Mus domesticus) on the Isle of May, Scotland

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Abstract

The colonizing ability, catholic habitat utilization and wide distribution of house mice (Mus domesticus, Rutty) are indicators of their ecological resilience. Numerous studies have been made of commensal, caged and free-living mouse populations though few have assessed the relative importance of physiological and genetical components of adaptability in a simple ecosystem. This paper reports such findings, derived from live-trapping which formed part of an inter-disciplinary study of adaptability in a feral population of house mice living on a small Scottish island (57 ha).

The population size ranged from450–3250 animals. A high proportion of mice showed homerange tenacity, though15–20% shifted their range during winter. This ‘churning’ of the population is consistent with the island population forming an effectively panmictic unit rather than fragmented demes. The breeding season, survival of individuals and change in population size related to patterns of gross climatic variation (temperature and rainfall) so that rates of reproduction and survival were lowest in cold, wet conditions. Thermoregulatory adjustment of the mice to lowered ambient temperatures and its contribution to overwinter survival are discussed. Genetical monomorphism of May Island mice is discussed in relation to their biological performance compared with other populations, especially that of the ecologically comparable Skokholm Island (Wales).

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