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The limits to population density in birds and mammals

Stephens, P.A.; Vieira, M.V.; Willis, S.G.; Carbone, C.

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M.V. Vieira

C. Carbone


We address two fundamental ecological questions: what are the limits to animal population density and what determines those limits? We develop simple alternative models to predict population limits in relation to body mass. A model assuming that within‐species area use increases with the square of daily travel distance broadly predicts the scaling of empirical extremes of minimum density across birds and mammals. Consistent with model predictions, the estimated density range for a given mass, ‘population scope’, is greater for birds than for mammals. However, unlike mammals and carnivorous birds, expected broad relationships between body mass and density extremes are not supported by data on herbivorous and omnivorous birds. Our results suggest that simple constraints on mobility and energy use/supply are major determinants of the scaling of density limits, but further understanding of interactions between dietary constraints and density limits are needed to predict future wildlife population responses to anthropogenic threats.


Stephens, P., Vieira, M., Willis, S., & Carbone, C. (2019). The limits to population density in birds and mammals. Ecology Letters, 22(4), 654-663.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Dec 28, 2018
Online Publication Date Feb 6, 2019
Publication Date Jan 1, 2019
Deposit Date Jan 9, 2019
Publicly Available Date Apr 23, 2019
Journal Ecology Letters
Print ISSN 1461-023X
Publisher Wiley
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 22
Issue 4
Pages 654-663


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Copyright Statement
© 2019 The Authors Ecology Letters published by CNRS and John Wiley & Sons Ltd.

This is an open access article under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits use, distribution and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

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