, Volume 107, Issue 4, pp 478-483

Do nomadic avian predators synchronize population fluctuations of small mammals? a field experiment

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Three-to-five-year population oscillations of northern small rodents are usually synchronous over hundreds of square kilometers. This regional synchrony could be due to similarity in climatic factors, or due to nomadic predators reducing the patches of high prey density close to the average density of a larger area. We estimated avian predator and small rodent densities in 4–5 predator reduction and 4–5 control areas (c. 3 km2 each) during 1989–1992 in western Finland. We studied whether nomadic avian predators concentrate at high prey density areas, and whether this decreases spatial variation in prey density. The yearly mean number of avian predator breeding territories was 0.2–1.0 in reduction areas and 3.0–8.2 in control areas. Hunting birds of prey concentrated in high prey density areas after their breeding season (August), but not necessarily during the breeding season (April to June), when they were constrained to hunt in vicinity of the nest. The experimental reduction of breeding avian predators increased variation in prey density among areas but not within areas. The difference in variation between raptor reduction and control areas was largest in the late breeding season of birds of prey, and decreased rapidly after the breeding season. These results appeared to support the hypothesis that the geographic synchrony of population cycles in small mammals may be driven by nomadic predators concentrating in high prey density areas. Predation and climatic factors apparently are complementary, rather than exclusive, factors in contributing to the synchrony.