Effects of forage availability on growth and maturation rates in water voles.
Moorhouse TP., Gelling M., Macdonald DW.
1. In populations of small mammals, food supplementation typically results in higher population densities, body weights, growth rates and reproductive rates. However, few studies have demonstrated a relationship between forage levels and demographic rates in wild populations in the absence of supplementation. 2. We examined the association of levels of available forage with individual growth rates and time to sexual maturity in eight re-introduced and three naturally occurring populations of water voles (Arvicola terrestris). 3. Range sizes were smaller at sites with higher population densities. Mean forage availability and individual growth rates covaried with range size at each site. 4. The weight at which water voles became sexually mature was 112 g for females and 115 g for males and did not vary between study sites. Differences in growth rates therefore translated into differences in the time taken to reach maturity between sites. 5. In the re-introduced populations, mean days to maturity varied inversely with mean range length. Females took 7 days (18%, range 40-47 days) longer and males 5 days (13%, range 40-45 days) longer to reach breeding condition at the sites with the shortest mean range lengths. 6. Evidence from this study suggests a possible mechanism by which increased population densities may reduce maturation rates in water voles through a reduction in mean range size, thereby limiting the availability of forage to each individual.