, Volume 154, Issue 3, pp 493–503 | Cite as

Acorn mast drives long-term dynamics of rodent and songbird populations

  • Ethan D. ClotfelterEmail author
  • Amy B. Pedersen
  • Jack A. Cranford
  • Nilam Ram
  • Eric A. Snajdr
  • Val Nolan Jr
  • Ellen D. Ketterson
Population Ecology


Resource pulses can have cascading effects on the dynamics of multiple trophic levels. Acorn mast is a pulsed resource in oak-dominated forests that has significant direct effects on acorn predators and indirect effects on their predators, prey, and pathogens. We evaluated changes in acorn mast, rodent abundance, raptor abundance, and reproductive success of a ground-nesting songbird over a 24-year period (1980–2004) in the southern Appalachian Mountains in an effort to determine the relationships among the four trophic levels. In particular, we examined the following: acorn mast from red oaks (Quercus rubra) and white oaks (Q. alba), abundance of white-footed mice (Peromyscus leucopus) and deer mice (P. maniculatus), population estimates of seven raptor species from three feeding guilds, and nest failure and number of juveniles of dark-eyed juncos (Junco hyemalis). Finally, we recorded seasonal temperature and precipitation to determine the effects of weather on each trophic level. We found that weather patterns had delayed effects of up to 3 years on these trophic interactions. Variation in acorn mast, the keystone resource in this community, was explained by weather conditions as far back as 2 years before the mast event. Acorn mast, in turn, was a strongly positive predictor of rodent abundance the following year, whereas spring and summer temperature and raptor abundance negatively affected rodent abundance. Dark-eyed junco nests were more likely to fail in years in which there were more rodents and raptors. Nest failure rate was a strong predictor of the number of juvenile juncos caught at the end of the summer. Our results improve our understanding of the complex ecological interactions in oak-dominated forests by illustrating the importance of abiotic and biotic factors at different trophic levels.


Resource pulse Quercus Peromyscus Dark-eyed junco Raptor Weather 



We thank the numerous colleagues and field assistants who helped collect the data we report here, particularly Charles (Zig) Ziegenfus, who spent thousands of hours catching juncos. Dennis Martin of the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries generously provided us with the acorn mast data. Thanks to Eric Nagy, Chris Rogers, and Bob Larson for compiling the weather data. Over the years we have received generous financial support from the National Science Foundation, the Mountain Lake Biological Station, and our respective institutions. We followed all relevant state, federal, and institutional (IACUC) animal care guidelines in the collection of the data reported here. Comments by Craig Osenberg, Scott Robinson, Ken Schmidt and two anonymous reviewers greatly improved previous versions of this manuscript.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  • Ethan D. Clotfelter
    • 1
    Email author
  • Amy B. Pedersen
    • 2
  • Jack A. Cranford
    • 3
  • Nilam Ram
    • 4
  • Eric A. Snajdr
    • 5
  • Val Nolan Jr
    • 5
  • Ellen D. Ketterson
    • 5
  1. 1.Department of BiologyAmherst CollegeAmherstUSA
  2. 2.Department of Animal and Plant SciencesUniversity of SheffieldSheffieldUK
  3. 3.Department of BiologyVirginia Polytechnic Institute and State UniversityBlacksburgUSA
  4. 4.Department of Human Development and Family StudiesPennsylvania State UniversityUniversity ParkUSA
  5. 5.Department of Biology and Center for the Integrative Study of Animal BehaviorIndiana UniversityBloomingtonUSA

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