This material has been published in Environmental Modeling & Assessment (2009, 14: 555-562, doi: 10.1007/s10666-008-9171-5).

Distinguishing between interference and exploitation competition for shelter in a mobile fish population

Andrew J.H. Davey, C. Patrick Doncaster and Owen D. Jones

Understanding the functional significance of shelter for animal populations requires knowledge of the behavioural mechanisms that govern the dynamics of shelter use. Exploitation of shelters may be impeded by mutual interference, yet interference competition can be difficult to distinguish from exploitation competition. We used Bullheads (Cottus gobio) as a model system of mobile fish to investigate the effect of intraspecific competition on shelter use. A series of field experiments was conducted under controlled conditions of shelter availability and population density. For each experiment the location of each individual fish was observed over a period of 10 days. We then constructed a continuous-time Markov-chain model for the movement of fish between shelters and the open stream, which explicitly parameterised exploitation competition and interference competition for shelter, and which accounted for two different size classes of fish. By using a stochastic rather than a deterministic model, we were able to account for the distribution of fish across shelters, and not just the average occupation. Analysis of the model showed strong evidence of exploitation competition, which was highly dependent on body size, and an increased departure rate from shared shelters. Over and above exploitation, interference competition limited the ability of unsheltered fish to colonise vacant shelters at high population densities. Different formulations of the interference competition were compared using the AIC information criterion. The formulation that best fitted the observations modelled interference competition as an increasing function of average shelter occupancy, rather than population density per se.

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