Demographic responses of Virginia opossums to limitation at their northern boundary

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Canadian Journal Of Zoology-revue Canadienne De Zoologie


The precise response of a population at its distributional edge to the limiting extrinsic factor should be mediated by the demography of the species. We applied this principle to understanding the northern distributional potential of the Virginia opossum (Didelphis virginiana Kerr, 1792). We reviewed the literature for demographic data that we then used to build model populations. Juvenile over-winter survival was adjusted to determine the survival necessary for a stable population. To put the results in the context of life-history strategy and ecological niche, we built models for two other medium-sized mammals with similar distributions, the raccoon (Procyon lotor (L., 1758)) and the muskrat (Ondatra zibethicus (L., 1766)). Northern raccoon populations may sustain juvenile winter survival rates of <0.50 because adult females live to reproduce in multiple years. Muskrat juveniles may need a winter survival rate of only 0.40 in average years because reproduction is very high. In contrast, young northern opossums need a survival rate of 0.81 over winter to compensate for low prewinter survival. Raccoons and muskrats, through different life-history strategies, should be able to expand their northern distribution to the winter-induced physiological limit. However, opossum populations should fail before the average individual physiological limit is reached.








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