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Density-dependent reproduction is commonly explained by either the habitat heterogeneity (HHH) or individual adjustment (IAH) hypothesis. Under the HHH, high quality territories are assumed to be occupied first. At higher density, occupation of low-quality territories increases due to lower availability of high-quality territories, which reduces mean reproductive success. Alternatively, the IAH assumes that increased competition at higher densities reduces reproductive success in all territories. For birds of prey, HHH plays an important role in territorial species, and IAH in socially breeding species. To test the generality of this hypothesis, we studied the mechanism behind density dependence in raven Corvus corax, a long-lived passerine bird, using long-term population data from a large number of territories.

Population density decreased reproduction, which was explained by increased usage of low quality territories at higher density, supporting the HHH. Density reduced reproduction in low quality territories, but not in high and intermediate quality territories. We additionally compared the explanatory power of different models describing brood size, representing IAH, HHH, or a combination of both. The best model represented a combination of both hypotheses, in which the effect of density depended on territory quality. Our conclusion that both IAH and HHH are supported can be explained by the biology of ravens, where territorial adults not only experience interference competition with other territorial adults, but also with social groups of juveniles and floaters. We conclude that the relative importance of IAH and HHH may depend on variation in territory quality and social structure.