Advertisement

Oecologia

, Volume 168, Issue 4, pp 935–946 | Cite as

Lemming winter habitat choice: a snow-fencing experiment

  • Donald G. Reid
  • Frédéric Bilodeau
  • Charles J. Krebs
  • Gilles Gauthier
  • Alice J. Kenney
  • B. Scott Gilbert
  • Maria C.-Y. Leung
  • David Duchesne
  • Elizabeth Hofer
Behavioral ecology - Original Paper

Abstract

The insulative value of early and deep winter snow is thought to enhance winter reproduction and survival by arctic lemmings (Lemmus and Dicrostonyx spp). This leads to the general hypothesis that landscapes with persistently low lemming population densities, or low amplitude population fluctuations, have a low proportion of the land base with deep snow. We experimentally tested a component of this hypothesis, that snow depth influences habitat choice, at three Canadian Arctic sites: Bylot Island, Nunavut; Herschel Island, Yukon; Komakuk Beach, Yukon. We used snow fencing to enhance snow depth on 9-ha tundra habitats, and measured the intensity of winter use of these and control areas by counting rodent winter nests in spring. At all three sites, the density of winter nests increased in treated areas compared to control areas after the treatment, and remained higher on treated areas during the treatment. The treatment was relaxed at one site, and winter nest density returned to pre-treatment levels. The rodents’ proportional use of treated areas compared to adjacent control areas increased and remained higher during the treatment. At two of three sites, lemmings and voles showed significant attraction to the areas of deepest snow accumulation closest to the fences. The strength of the treatment effect appeared to depend on how quickly the ground level temperature regime became stable in autumn, coincident with snow depths near the hiemal threshold. Our results provide strong support for the hypothesis that snow depth is a primary determinant of winter habitat choice by tundra lemmings and voles.

Keywords

Arctic ecology Energetics Habitat selection Rodents Temperature 

Notes

Acknowledgments

We thank G.-O. Cimon, M. Müller, E. McLeod, A. Fehr, J.-B. Lambert, H. Mailhot-Couture, V. Lamarre, J. Rosa-Francoeur, G. Souchay, C. Morin, J.-F. Therrien, N. Perreault, P. Bertrand, S. Pellerin, M.-A. Valiquette, M. Sirois, P.-Y. L’Hérault, É. D’Astous, L. Mercier, V. Duclos and students of the Renewable Resources Management Program (2008) at Yukon College for assistance in building and dismantling the fences. We also thank A. Fehr, D. Fehr, S. McLeod, J.-B. Lambert, S. Pellerin, V. Duclos and H. Mailhot-Couture for help in mapping winter nests and Nigel G Yoccoz for his comments on an earlier draft of the paper. The research relied on the logistic assistance of the staff of the Polar Continental Shelf Program (PCSP, Natural Resources Canada), the Rangers of Yukon’s Qikiqtaruk Territorial Park, the staff of Ivvavik and Sirmilik National Parks, and the staff of the Aurora Research Institute in Inuvik, Northwest Territories. The study was funded by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) International Polar Year program, the Canadian federal government’s International Polar Year program (Project MD-021) and the Northern Student Training Program, both administered by Indian and Northern Affairs Canada, the Canadian Network of Centres of Excellence ArcticNet, the PCSP, and Wildlife Conservation Society Canada. This is PCSP contribution No. 031-11.

References

  1. Aars J, Ims RA (2002) Intrinsic and climatic determinants of population demography: the winter dynamics of tundra voles. Ecology 83:3449–3456CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Atlas of Canada (2010) Maps of average maximum snow depth, and start and end dates of continuous snow cover. Natural Resources Canada, Government of Canada, Ottawa. Available March 2011 at http://atlas.nrcan.gc.ca/site/english/maps/environment/climate/snowcover/snowdepth
  3. Casey TM (1981) Nest insulation: energy savings to brown lemmings using a winter nest. Oecologia 50:199–204CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Chappell MA (1980) Thermal energetic and thermoregulatory costs of small Arctic mammals. J Mammal 61:278–291CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Duchesne D, Gauthier G, Berteaux D (2011a) Evaluation of a method to determine the breeding activity of lemmings in winter nests. J Mammal 92:511–516CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Duchesne D, Gauthier G, Berteaux D (2011b) Habitat selection, reproduction and predation of wintering lemmings in the Arctic. Oecologia (in press)Google Scholar
  7. Fuller WA, Martell AM, Smith RFC, Speller SW (1975a) High Arctic lemmings (Dicrostonyx groenlandicus) 1. Natural history observations. Can Field-Nat 89:223–233Google Scholar
  8. Fuller WA, Martell AM, Smith RFC, Speller SW (1975b) High-arctic lemmings, Dicrostonyx groenlandicus. II. Demography. Can J Zool 53:867–878CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Gauthier G, Rochefort L, Reed A (1996) The exploitation of wetland ecosystems by herbivores on Bylot Island. Geosci Can 23:253–259Google Scholar
  10. Gauthier G, Bêty J, Giroux J-F, Rochefort L (2004) Trophic interactions in a high Arctic snow goose colony. Integr Comp Biol 44:119–129PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Gruyer N, Gauthier G, Berteaux D (2008) Cyclic dynamics of sympatric lemming populations on Bylot Island, Nunavut, Canada. Can J Zool 86:910–917CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Gruyer N, Gauthier G, Berteaux D (2009) Demography of two lemming species on Bylot Island, Nunavut, Canada. Polar Biol 33:725–736CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Ims RA, Yoccoz NG, Killengreen ST (2011) Determinants of lemming outbreaks. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 108:1970–1974PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Kausrud KL, Mysterud A, Steen H, Vik JO, Ostbye E, Cazelles B, Framstad E, Eikeset AM, Mysterud I, Solhøy T, Stenseth NC (2008) Linking climate change to lemming cycles. Nature 456:93–97PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Korslund L, Steen H (2005) Small rodent winter survival: snow conditions limit access to food resources. J Anim Ecol 75:156–166CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Krebs CJ (1964) The lemming cycle at Baker Lake, Northwest Territories, during 1959-62. Arctic Institute of North America Technical Paper No. 15, CalgaryGoogle Scholar
  17. Krebs CJ, Boonstra R, Kenney AJ (1995) Population dynamics of the collared lemming and the tundra vole at Pearce Point, Northwest Territories, Canada. Oecologia 103:481–489CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Krebs CJ, Reid DG, Kenney AJ, Gilbert BS (2011) The lemming cycle in north Yukon, Canada, 2007–2010. Can J Zool 89:297–306CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. MacLean SF, Fitzgerald BM, Pitelka FA (1974) Population cycles in arctic lemmings: winter reproduction and predation by weasels. Arctic Alpine Res 6:1–12CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Madison DM (1984) Group nesting and its ecological and evolutionary significance in overwintering microtine rodents. In: Merritt JF (ed) Winter ecology of small mammals. Special Publication No. 10. Carnegie Museum of Natural History, Pittsburgh, pp 267–274Google Scholar
  21. Malcolm JR, Brooks RJ (1993) The adaptive value of photoperiod-induced shape changes in the collared lemming. In: Stenseth NC, Ims RA (eds) The biology of lemmings. Linnaean Society Symposium Series No. 15. Academic, London, pp 311–328Google Scholar
  22. Marchand PJ (1984) Light extinction under a changing snow cover. In: Merritt JF (ed) Winter ecology of small mammals. Special Publication No. 10. Carnegie Museum of Natural History, Pittsburgh, pp 33–37Google Scholar
  23. Maxwell JB (1980) The climate of the Canadian Arctic islands and adjacent waters. Atmospheric Environment Service, Environment Canada, HullGoogle Scholar
  24. Pomeroy JW, Brun E (2001) Physical properties of snow. In: Jones HG, Pomeroy JW, Walker DA, Hoham RW (eds) Snow ecology: an interdisciplinary examination of snow-covered ecosystems. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, pp 45–126Google Scholar
  25. Pruitt WO (1970) Some ecological aspects of snow. In: Ecology of the subarctic regions. UNESCO, Paris, pp 83–100Google Scholar
  26. Pruitt WO (1984) Snow and small mammals. In: Merritt JF (ed) Winter ecology of small mammals. Special publication No. 10. Carnegie Museum of Natural History, Pittsburgh, pp 1–8Google Scholar
  27. Reid DG, Krebs CJ (1996) Limitations to collared lemming population growth in winter. Can J Zool 74:1284–1291CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Scholander PF, Hock R, Walters V, Johnson F, Irving L (1950) Heat regulation in some arctic and tropical mammals and birds. Biol Bull 99:237–258PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Scott PA (1993) Relationship between the onset of winter and collared lemming abundance at Churchill, Manitoba, Canada: 1932–90. Arctic 46:293–296Google Scholar
  30. Shelford VE (1943) The abundance of the collared lemming (Dicrostonyx groenlandicus (Tr.) var. richardsoni Mer.) in the Churchill area, 1929–1940. Ecology 24:472–484CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Sittler B (1995) Response of stoats (Mustela erminea) to a fluctuating lemming (Dicrostonyx groenlandicus) population in North East Greenland: preliminary results from a long-term study. Ann Zool Fenn 32:79–92Google Scholar
  32. Smith CAS, Kennedy CE, Hargrave AE, McKenna KM (1989) Soil and vegetation of Herschel Island. Yukon Soil Survey Report No. 1. Research Branch, Agriculture Canada, OttawaGoogle Scholar
  33. Stenseth NC, Ims RA (1993) Population dynamics of lemmings: temporal and spatial variation–an introduction. In: Stenseth NC, Ims RA (eds) The biology of lemmings. Linnaean Society Symposium Series No. 15. Academic, London, pp 61–96Google Scholar
  34. Tabler RD (1991) Snow fence guide. Strategic Highway Research Program, National Research Council, WashingtonGoogle Scholar
  35. Walker DA et al (2005) The Circumpolar Arctic vegetation map. J Veg Sci 16:267–282CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  • Donald G. Reid
    • 1
  • Frédéric Bilodeau
    • 2
  • Charles J. Krebs
    • 3
  • Gilles Gauthier
    • 2
  • Alice J. Kenney
    • 3
  • B. Scott Gilbert
    • 4
  • Maria C.-Y. Leung
    • 5
  • David Duchesne
    • 2
  • Elizabeth Hofer
    • 3
  1. 1.Wildlife Conservation Society CanadaWhitehorseCanada
  2. 2.Département de Biologie and Centre d’Études Nordiques, Pavillon VachonUniversité LavalQuébecCanada
  3. 3.Department of ZoologyUniversity of British ColumbiaVancouverCanada
  4. 4.Renewable Resources Management ProgramYukon CollegeWhitehorseCanada
  5. 5.Wild Tracks Ecological ConsultingWhitehorseCanada

Personalised recommendations