Spatial synchronization of vole population dynamics by predatory birds

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Abstract

Northern vole populations exhibit large-scale, spatially synchronous population dynamics1,2. Such cases of population synchrony provide excellent opportunities for distinguishing between local intrinsic and regional extrinsic mechanisms of population regulation3. Analyses of large-scale survey data and theoretical modelling4,5,6 have indicated several plausible synchronizing mechanisms. It is difficult, however, to determine the most important one without detailed data on local demographic processes3,7. Here we combine results from two field studies in southeastern Norway—one identifies local demographic mechanisms and landscape-level annual synchrony among 28 enclosed experimental populations and the other examines region-level multi-annual synchrony in open natural populations. Despite fences eliminating predatory mammals and vole dispersal, the growth rates of the experimental populations were synchronized and moreover, perfectly linked with vole abundance in the region. The fates of 481 radio-marked voles showed that bird predation was the synchronizing mechanism. A higher frequency of risky dispersal movements in slowly growing populations appeared to accelerate predation rate. Thus, dispersal may induce a feedback-loop between predation and population growth that enhances synchrony.

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Figure 1: Population development and predation rate of the experimental populations.
Figure 2: Negative density-dependent movement rates.
Figure 3: Evidence for regional multi-annual spatial synchrony.

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Acknowledgements

We thank all the people who helped us during the field work at Evenstad; and J. Aars, E. Johannesen, X. Lambin and H. Steen for comments on the manuscript. This study was supported by the Research Council of Norway.

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Correspondence to Rolf A. Ims.

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