Research ArticleECOLOGY

Violent encounters between social units hinder the growth of a high-density mountain gorilla population

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Science Advances  04 Nov 2020:
Vol. 6, no. 45, eaba0724
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.aba0724


Density-dependent processes such as competition for resources, migration, predation, and disease outbreaks limit the growth of natural populations. The analysis of 50 years of mountain gorilla data reveals that social behavior changes observed at high group density may also affect population growth in social species. A sudden increase in social group density observed in 2007 caused a threefold increase in the rate of violent encounters between social units (groups and solitary males). A fivefold increase in the rate of infanticide and seven cases of lethal fights among mature males were subsequently recorded, and the annual subpopulation growth rate declined by half between 2000 and 2017. The increase in infanticide alone explains 57% of this decline. These findings highlight the complex relationship between population density and growth in social species and hold important implications for the management of island populations.

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