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Limitation of Collared Lemming Population Growth at Low Densities by Predation Mortality

Donald G. Reid, Charles J. Krebs and Alice Kenney
Oikos
Vol. 73, No. 3 (Sep., 1995), pp. 387-398
Published by: Wiley on behalf of Nordic Society Oikos
DOI: 10.2307/3545963
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/3545963
Page Count: 12
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Limitation of Collared Lemming Population Growth at Low Densities by Predation Mortality
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Abstract

Populations of the collared lemming (Dicrostonyx kilangmiutak) and the tundra vole (Microtus oeconomus) have been at consistently low densities, and non-cyclic, at Pearce Point, Northwest Territories, Canada, for six yr. In most summers population densities decline, or only increase marginally, despite ongoing reproduction. We investigated the hypothesis that predation mortality is sufficient and necessary to curtail lemming population growth in summer. To test predictions of the hypothesis, we compared lemming demography, using mark-recapture and radiotelemetry, on a population from which predators were excluded (PE), using a perimeter fence and aerial mesh of nylon (11.4 ha), with demographies of three control populations (18-25 ha). Predation was the proximate cause of the majority of adult and neo-natal mortality, and was not replaced in a compensatory fashion by any other mortality factor in the PE. Significantly fewer adult lemmings died in the PE, and consequently survival inside the PE was significantly enhanced. Recruitment of juvenile lemmings to the adult population was significantly higher in the PE on a per unit area basis. The lemming population in PE followed a significantly different trajectory than the control populations in 1990 and 1991, remaining fairly stable while controls declined. However, the protected population did not grow, apparently because of juvenile dispersal: telemetered juveniles dispersed at an average rate of 53 m/d within the first ten d after weaning. We believe that the protected area was too small to encompass such dispersal, and that emigrants were not replaced by immigrating juveniles since the latter faced heavy mortality outside the exclosure. In 1992, numbers on PE and all controls grew, in conjunction with a regional absence of rough-legged hawks (Buteo lagopus) and a scarcity of red foxes (Vulpes vulpes), the two principal microtine predators. Tundra vole population growth was also limited by predation mortality, but to a lesser extent. We conclude that predation mortality is sufficient and necessary to limit summer population growth in these microtine species.

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