Pronounced population cycles are characteristic of many herbivorous small mammals in northern latitudes. Although delayed density–dependent effects of predation and food shortage are often proposed as factors driving population cycles, firm evidence for causality is rare because sufficiently replicated, large–scale field experiments are lacking. We conducted two experiments on Microtus voles in four large predator–proof enclosures and four unfenced control areas in western Finland. Predator exclusion induced rapid population growth and increased the peak abundance of voles over 20–fold until the enclosed populations crashed during the second winter due to food shortage. Thereafter, voles introduced to enclosures which had suffered heavy grazing increased to higher densities than voles in previously ungrazed control areas which were exposed to predators. We concluded that predation inhibits an increase in vole populations until predation pressure declines, thus maintaining the low phase of the cycle, but also that population cycles in voles are not primarily driven by plant–herbivore interactions.