, Volume 167, Issue 4, pp 967–980 | Cite as

Habitat selection, reproduction and predation of wintering lemmings in the Arctic

  • David Duchesne
  • Gilles Gauthier
  • Dominique Berteaux
Population ecology - Original Paper


Snow cover has dramatic effects on the structure and functioning of Arctic ecosystems in winter. In the tundra, the subnivean space is the primary habitat of wintering small mammals and may be critical for their survival and reproduction. We have investigated the effects of snow cover and habitat features on the distributions of collared lemming (Dicrostonyx groenlandicus) and brown lemming (Lemmus trimucronatus) winter nests, as well as on their probabilities of reproduction and predation by stoats (Mustela erminea) and arctic foxes (Vulpes lagopus). We sampled 193 lemming winter nests and measured habitat features at all of these nests and at random sites at two spatial scales. We also monitored overwinter ground temperature at a subsample of nest and random sites. Our results demonstrate that nests were primarily located in areas with high micro-topography heterogeneity, steep slopes, deep snow cover providing thermal protection (reduced daily temperature fluctuations) and a high abundance of mosses. The probability of reproduction increased in collared lemming nests at low elevation and in brown lemming nests with high availability of some graminoid species. The probability of predation by stoats was density dependent and was higher in nests used by collared lemmings. Snow cover did not affect the probability of predation of lemming nests by stoats, but deep snow cover limited predation attempts by arctic foxes. We conclude that snow cover plays a key role in the spatial structure of wintering lemming populations and potentially in their population dynamics in the Arctic.


Dicrostonyx groenlandicus Lemmus trimucronatus Small mammals Snow cover Tundra 



We thank all of the people who participated in the laboratory and field work, particularly J.-B. Lambert, M. Marchand-Roy, É. Valiquette and M.C. Cadieux. We are grateful to S.D. Coté, M. Doiron, D. Fortin, O. Gilg, C. Juillet, L. McKinnon, D. Morris, D. Reid, B. Sittler and M-A. Valiquette for their comments on the manuscript. Funding support was provided by grants from Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada to G. Gauthier, the Fonds Québécois pour la Nature et les Technologies, the Canadian Network of Centres of Excellence ArcticNet, International Polar Year program of the Government of Canada, the Northern Ecosystem Initiative (Environment Canada), the Canada Foundation for Innovation, and the Department of Indian and Northern Affairs Canada. Logistic support was generously provided by the Polar Continental Shelf Program (PCSP). We are indebted to the Hunters and Trappers Association of Pond Inlet and to Park Canada for allowing us to work on Bylot Island. This is PCSP contribution No. 01711.

Supplementary material

442_2011_2045_MOESM1_ESM.doc (116 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOC 116 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  • David Duchesne
    • 1
  • Gilles Gauthier
    • 1
  • Dominique Berteaux
    • 2
  1. 1.Département de Biologie, Centre d’Études NordiquesUniversité LavalQuebecCanada
  2. 2.Canada Research Chair in Conservation of Northern Ecosystems, Centre d’Études NordiquesUniversité du Québec à RimouskiRimouskiCanada

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