Dynamics of a small re-introduced population of wild dogs over 25 years: Allee effects and the implications of sociality for endangered species’ recovery

18 November 2008

We analysed 25 years (1980–2004) of demographic data on a small re-introduced population of endangered African wild dogs (Lycaon pictus) in Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park (HiP), South Africa, to describe population and pack dynamics. As small populations of cooperative breeders may be particularly prone to Allee effects, this extensive data set was used to test the prediction that, if Allee effects occur, aspects of reproductive success, individual survival and population growth should increase with pack and population size. The results suggest that behavioural aspects of wild dogs rather than ecological factors (i.e. competitors, prey and rainfall) primarily have been limiting the HiP wild dog population, particularly a low probability of finding suitable mates upon dispersal at low pack number (i.e. a mate-finding Allee effect). Wild dogs in HiP were not subject to component Allee effects at the pack level, most likely due to low interspecific competition and high prey availability. This suggests that aspects of the environment can mediate the strength of Allee effects. There was also no demographic Allee effect in the HiP wild dog population, as the population growth rate was significantly negatively related to population size, despite no apparent ecological resource limitation. Such negative density dependence at low numbers indicates that behavioural studies of the causal mechanisms potentially generating Allee effects in small populations can provide a key to understanding their dynamics. This study demonstrates how aspects of a species’ social behaviour can influence the vulnerability of small populations to extinction and illustrates the profound implications of sociality for endangered species’ recovery.