Predator–induced synchrony in population oscillations of coexisting small mammal species

Erkki Korpimäki, Kai Norrdahl, Otso Huitu, Tero Klemola

Abstract

Comprehensive analyses of long–term (1977–2003) small–mammal abundance data from western Finland showed that populations of Microtus voles (field voles M.agrestis and sibling voles M.rossiaemeridionalis), bank voles (Clethrionomys glareolus) and common shrews (Sorex araneus) fluctuated synchronously in 3 year population cycles. Time–series analyses indicated that interspecific synchrony is influenced strongly by density–dependent processes. Synchrony among Microtus and bank voles appeared additionally to be influenced by density–independent processes. To test whether interspecific synchronization through density–dependent processes is caused by predation, we experimentally reduced the densities of the main predators of small mammals in four large agricultural areas, and compared small mammal abundances in these to those in four control areas (2.5–3 km2) through a 3 year small–mammal population cycle. Predator reduction increased densities of the main prey species, Microtus voles, in all phases of the population cycle, while bank voles, the most important alternative prey of predators, responded positively only in the low and the increase phase. Manipulation also increased the autumn densities of water voles (Arvicola terrestris) in the increase phase of the cycle. No treatment effects were detected for common shrews or mice. Our results are in accordance with the alternative prey hypothesis, by which predators successively reduce the densities of both main and alternative prey species after the peak phase of small–mammal population cycles, thus inducing a synchronous low phase.