Royal Society Publishing

Spatio–temporal dynamics of the grey–sided vole in Hokkaido: identifying coupling using state-based Markov–chain modelling

Haydon D. T., P. E. Greenwood, N. Chr. Stenseth, T. Saitoh


Explaining synchronization of cyclical or fluctuating populations over geographical regions presents ecologists with novel analytical challenges. We have developed a method to measure synchrony within spatial–temporal datasets of population densities applicable to both periodic and irregularly fluctuating populations. The dynamics of each constituent population is represented by a discrete Markov model. The state of a population trajectory at each time–point is classified as one of ‘increase’, ‘decrease’, ‘peak’ or ‘trough’. The set of populations at any time–point is characterized by the frequency distribution of these different states, and the time–evolution of this frequency distribution used to test the hypothesis that the dynamics of each population proceeds independently of the others. The analysis identifies years in which population coupling results in synchronous states and onto which states the system converges, and identifies those years in which synchrony remains high but is accounted for by coupling observed in previous years. It also enables identification of which pairs of sites show the highest levels of coupling. Applying these methods to populations of the grey–sided vole on Hokkaido reveals them to be fluctuating in greater synchrony than would be expected from independent dynamics, and that this level of synchrony is maintained through intermittent coupling acting in ca. 1 year in four or five. High synchrony occurs between sites with similar vegetation and of similar altitude indicating that coupling may be mediated through shared environmental stimuli. When coupling is indicated, convergence is equally likely to occur on a peak state as a trough, indicating that synchronization may be brought about by the response of populations to a combination of different stimuli rather than by the action of any single process.

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