University of Wisconsin–Madison
Spatial Analysis For Conservation and Sustainability

Failed despots and the equitable distribution of fitness in a subsidized species

Download Brunk et al_2022_Failed despots and the aquitable distribution of fitness in a subsidized species

Territorial species are often predicted to adhere to an ideal despotic distribution and under-match local food resources, meaning that individuals in high-quality habitat achieve higher fitness than those in low-quality habitat. However, conditions such as high density, territory compression, and frequent territorial disputes in high-quality habitat are expected to cause habitat quality to decline as population density increases and, instead, promote resource matching. We studied a highly human-subsidized and under-matched population of Steller’s jays (Cyanocitta stelleri) to determine how under-matching is maintained despite high densities, compressed territories, and frequent agonistic behaviors, which should promote resource matching. We examined the distribution of fitness among individuals in high-quality, subsidized habitat, by categorizing jays into dominance classes and characterizing individual consumption of human food, body condition, fecundity, and core area size and spatial distribution. Individuals of all dominance classes consumed similar amounts of human food and had similar body condition and fecundity. However, the most dominant individuals maintained smaller core areas that had greater overlap with subsidized habitat than those of subordinates. Thus, we found that (1) jays attain high densities in subsidized areas because dominant individuals do not exclude subordinates from human food subsidies and (2) jay densities do not reach the level necessary to facilitate resource matching because dominant individuals monopolize space in subsidized areas. Our results suggest that human-modified landscapes may decouple dominance from fitness and that incomplete exclusion of subordinates may be a common mechanism underpinning high densities and creating source populations of synanthropic species in subsidized environments.