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A predictive model and a field study on heterogeneous slug distribution in arable fields arising from density dependent movement.

Abstract

Factors and processes determining heterogeneous ('patchy') population distributions in natural environments have long been a major focus in ecology. Existing theoretical approaches proved to be successful in explaining vegetation patterns. In the case of animal populations, existing theories are at most conceptual: they may suggest a qualitative explanation but largely fail to explain patchiness quantitatively. We aim to bridge this knowledge gap. We present a new mechanism of self-organized formation of a patchy spatial population distribution. A factor that was under-appreciated by pattern formation theories is animal sociability, which may result in density dependent movement behaviour. Our approach was inspired by a recent project on movement and distribution of slugs in arable fields. The project discovered a strongly heterogeneous slug distribution and a specific density dependent individual movement. In this paper, we bring these two findings together. We develop a model of density dependent animal movement to account for the switch in the movement behaviour when the local population density exceeds a certain threshold. The model is fully parameterized using the field data. We then show that the model produces spatial patterns with properties closely resembling those observed in the field, in particular to exhibit similar values of the aggregation index.

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