Changes in body condition and body size affect breeding and recruitment in fluctuating house mouse populations in south-eastern Australia

Changes in body condition and body size in field populations of house mice, Mus domesticus, were examined to investigate why mouse populations do not increase rapidly in some years when favourable environmental and demographic conditions indicate they might. Mice had repeated seasonal patterns each year in breeding, growth rates and body condition that reflected the seasonal availability of food, but mean levels for each parameter varied among years. In most years mice lost body condition during summer, breeding declined and population growth slowed. Rapid population growth occurred when body condition was generally high and was maintained throughout summer. Female mice with large body length were more likely to breed than smaller mice, at all times, but changes in body condition accounted for most of the variability in female breeding activity between years and between habitats, and for the seasonal changes in the importance of body length. During rapid population growth, the recruitment rate of juveniles relative to the number of breeding females was 150-300% higher than in other years but adult survival rates were not higher. The data indicate that the ability of mice to maintain body condition, particularly when subject to moisture stress in summer, affects the proportion of females breeding, the number of juveniles weaned and their body condition at weaning, and is promoted by foraging conditions that favour maintenance of juvenile body condition after weaning. These factors, in turn, greatly affect juvenile recruitment rates and eventual population density of mice. Low juvenile survival is suggested as a reason that numbers of house mice in southern Australian cereal-growing areas do not increase rapidly in some years when other parameters are favourable. Similar processes are likely to play a role in regulating other rodent populations.

Date 02/03/2009
Year 2009
Secondary title Austral Ecology
Volume 34
Number 3
Institution Animal and Plant Control Group
Department Department of Water, Land and Biodiversity Conserv
Pages 278 - 293
Notes Notes
ISBN/ISSN DOI: 10.1111/j.1442-9993.2008.01929.x