Habitat-specific demography: evidence for source-sink population structure in a mammal, the pika
Theory suggests that populations may persist in sink habitats that cannot support replacement-level birth rates. Although it is commonly believed that organisms that can actively select habitat should rarely occur in sinks, the frequency of use of sinks in free-ranging species is not well-documented. We found that a population of American pikas (Ochotona princeps, Lagomorpha) inhabiting distinct alpine habitats (meadow and snowbed) in Wyoming, USA, had habitat-specific demographic rates that produced a source-sink population structure. Population size increased in both habitats in summer and declined in both habitats in winter, with populations in snowbeds increasing more during summer and decreasing more over winter. Birth rates were consistently higher in meadows and populations in meadows had a consistently higher finite rate of increase (λ, from life tables) than did those in snowbeds, for which λ was far below that needed for replacement. Patterns of immigration, population structure, and temporal variation in population size were as expected if meadows were functional sources and snowbeds functional sinks. Patterns of snowmelt differed between habitats, predicted the critical difference in birth rates between habitats, and are a likely primary cause of the differences in habitat-specific birth rates that we observed. This study provides a clear example of source-sink population structure for a mammal.
Kreuzer MP Jr, N Huntly. 2003. Habitat-specific demography: evidence for source-sink population structure in a mammal, the pika. Oecologia 134:343-349.