What do simple models reveal about the population dynamics of a cooperatively breeding species?
Bateman AW., Coulson T., Clutton-Brock TH.
Research on cooperatively breeding species has shown that their population dynamics differ from those of conventional breeders. Populations of cooperators are structured into groups, and group-level Allee effects are likely common. We assess the ability of phenomenological models, lacking explicit group structure, to describe population dynamics in cooperative meerkats Suricata suricatta, and we assess potential Allee effects at the population level. Using maximum likelihood model fitting and information theoretic model selection, applied to time series data from a wild meerkat population, we find simple models that incorporate rainfall and conventional density dependence to be the most parsimonious of the models considered. Detecting no population-level Allee effect, we conclude that explicit consideration of population structure will be key to understanding the mechanisms behind population dynamics in cooperatively breeding species. © 2011 The Authors.