Considerable research supports the tenet that quantity and quality of food limit vertebrate populations. We evaluated predictions that increased availabilities of food and the essential amino acid methionine were related to population limitation of the hispid cotton rat (Sigmodon hispidus). Effects of supplemental food and methionine on density, survival, and reproductive parameters of wild cotton rats were assessed in north-central Oklahoma in 1998-1999. Twelve enclosed groups of 16 adult cotton rats each (8 male, 8 female) were randomly assigned to either no supplementation (control), supplementation with a mixed ration that had methionine at slightly below maintenance levels (0.20%), or a methionine-enhanced mixed ration (1.20%). In general, densities of cotton rats were twice as high and were sustained longer with dietary supplementation, and methionine-supplemented populations maintained the highest densities. Treatment effects on survival depended on time of year, with higher survival in supplemented enclosures in October and November. Per capita recruitment was highest with methionine-enhanced food. Treatment effects on proportions of overall and female cotton rats in reproductive condition depended on sampling date, but males were most reproductively active with methionine supplementation. Methionine supplementation resulted in an earlier and longer reproductive season. Density-dependent and density-independent factors no doubt interplay to determine population dynamics of cotton rats, but our results suggest that methionine plays a role in the population dynamics of wild cotton rats, apparently by enhancing overall density, recruitment, and reproductive activity of males.
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Impact of food supplementation and methionine on high densities of cotton rats: Support of the amino-acid-quality hypothesis?