Long-term resource variation and group size: a large-sample field test of the Resource Dispersion Hypothesis.
Johnson DD., Baker S., Morecroft MD., Macdonald DW.
BACKGROUND: The Resource Dispersion Hypothesis (RDH) proposes a mechanism for the passive formation of social groups where resources are dispersed, even in the absence of any benefits of group living per se. Despite supportive modelling, it lacks empirical testing. The RDH predicts that, rather than Territory Size (TS) increasing monotonically with Group Size (GS) to account for increasing metabolic needs, TS is constrained by the dispersion of resource patches, whereas GS is independently limited by their richness. We conducted multiple-year tests of these predictions using data from the long-term study of badgers Meles meles in Wytham Woods, England. The study has long failed to identify direct benefits from group living and, consequently, alternative explanations for their large group sizes have been sought. RESULTS: TS was not consistently related to resource dispersion, nor was GS consistently related to resource richness. Results differed according to data groupings and whether territories were mapped using minimum convex polygons or traditional methods. Habitats differed significantly in resource availability, but there was also evidence that food resources may be spatially aggregated within habitat types as well as between them. CONCLUSIONS: This is, we believe, the largest ever test of the RDH and builds on the long-term project that initiated part of the thinking behind the hypothesis. Support for predictions were mixed and depended on year and the method used to map territory borders. We suggest that within-habitat patchiness, as well as model assumptions, should be further investigated for improved tests of the RDH in the future.