The population cycles of rodents at northern latitudes have puzzled people for centuries1,2, and their impact is manifest throughout the alpine ecosystem2,3. Climate change is known to be able to drive animal population dynamics between stable and cyclic phases4,5, and has been suggested to cause the recent changes in cyclic dynamics of rodents and their predators3,6,7,8,9. But although predator–rodent interactions are commonly argued to be the cause of the Fennoscandian rodent cycles1,10,11,12,13, the role of the environment in the modulation of such dynamics is often poorly understood in natural systems8,9,14. Hence, quantitative links between climate-driven processes and rodent dynamics have so far been lacking. Here we show that winter weather and snow conditions, together with density dependence in the net population growth rate, account for the observed population dynamics of the rodent community dominated by lemmings (Lemmus lemmus) in an alpine Norwegian core habitat between 1970 and 1997, and predict the observed absence of rodent peak years after 1994. These local rodent dynamics are coherent with alpine bird dynamics both locally and over all of southern Norway, consistent with the influence of large-scale fluctuations in winter conditions. The relationship between commonly available meteorological data and snow conditions indicates that changes in temperature and humidity, and thus conditions in the subnivean space, seem to markedly affect the dynamics of alpine rodents and their linked groups. The pattern of less regular rodent peaks, and corresponding changes in the overall dynamics of the alpine ecosystem, thus seems likely to prevail over a growing area under projected climate change.
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E. Leslie, D. Svalastog and a number of other field workers helped gather the data used in this paper, T. Rouyer provided advice on performing wavelet analyses in R, and R. A. Ims provided valuable input on an earlier version of the paper. Funding has been provided by the Norwegian Institute for Nature Research, the University of Oslo, the Nansen Fund, the Research Council of Norway and the Centre for Ecological and Evolutionary Synthesis, Oslo.
Author Contributions K.L.K. designed the project, analysed data, contributed to interpreting the results and wrote the paper; H.S. and N.C.S. designed the project and wrote the paper; A.M., J.O.V. and A.M.E. contributed to interpreting the results and wrote the paper; E.Ø., I.M. and T.S. contributed with data; B.C. provided analysis; and E.F. contributed with data and wrote the paper
This file contains Supplementary Notes, Supplementary Figures 5-14 with Legends, Supplementary Tables 1-5, and Supplementary References.