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JM

Jean-Michel Matte

Postdoctoral fellow | Postdoctorant.e
Density dependence is a strong regulator of animal populations, occurring primarily through intraspecific competition for a limiting resource. Because food is generally limited in natural environments, it is typically assumed that increasing animal density leads to reduced individual fitness through food depletion or monopolization. However, recent work demonstrates that density dependence can occur without apparent food depletion, or with virtually unlimited resources, suggesting that other mechanisms must also be important. Alternatively, density-dependent regulation could be achieved through increasing energy costs rather than decreasing food abundance. However, the relative importance of these two processes (food depletion and energy costs) and their underlying mechanisms remains unclear. Here, we manipulated the density of juvenile stream-dwelling brook trout (Salvelinus fontinalis) in three neighboring populations over two consecutive summers to relate food availability and consumption to density-dependent growth, survival, and their trade-off. Despite strong patterns of density dependence and evidence of food limitation, increasing fish density did not lead to detectable prey depletion in the environment. Instead, behavioral observations suggest that increasing densities resulted in increasing energetic costs, primarily via increasing interference competition, activity, and the use of less suitable foraging microhabitats. These results have important ecological implications, suggesting that animal populations may be regulated by density dependence without necessarily impacting prey communities.