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A Long-Term Study of Vertebrate Predator Responses to an El Niño (ENSO) Disturbance in Western South America

Fabian M. Jaksic, Sergio I. Silva, Peter L. Meserve and Julio R. Gutiérrez
Oikos
Vol. 78, No. 2 (Mar., 1997), pp. 341-354
Published by: Wiley on behalf of Nordic Society Oikos
DOI: 10.2307/3546302
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/3546302
Page Count: 14
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Since scans are not currently available to screen readers, please contact JSTOR User Support for access. We'll provide a PDF copy for your screen reader.
A Long-Term Study of Vertebrate Predator Responses to an El Niño (ENSO) Disturbance in Western South America
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Abstract

We analyzed the putative effects of the El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO) of 1991-92 in a semi-arid locality of northern Chile. We obtained 30 months of pre-ENSO data, followed by 36 months of peak and post-ENSO data (total = 5.5 yr). The rainy winter of 1991 resulted in a three-fold increase in total seed bank (perennial and ephemerals pooled) and in ephemeral (but not perennial) herb cover. Seed and herbage eaters (rodents) irrupted to population levels ca 20 times higher during the breeding season of 1991 than the preceding wintering season. Diurnal carnivorous predators (hawks, owls, and foxes) showed a delayed response to the irruption, increasing from seven individuals sighted during the wintering season of 1991 to 13 during the wintering season of 1992. A seemingly counterclockwise trajectory of predator abundance versus prey levels suggested a pattern of prey-driven dynamics, but confidence intervals were likely broad. In this semiarid locality, it appears that ENSO effects did not cascade down from higher to lower trophic levels, but rather the opposite. In this bottom-up scenario, we predict that as primary productivity varies with rainfall, so should secondary (mammal prey densities), and tertiary productivity (vertebrate predators). Long-term monitoring of this terrestrial ecosystem is needed to test this prediction.

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