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Oecologia

, Volume 170, Issue 2, pp 363–371 | Cite as

The nature of lemming cycles on Wrangel: an island without small mustelids

  • Irina E. Menyushina
  • Dorothée Ehrich
  • John-André Henden
  • Rolf Anker Ims
  • Nikita G. Ovsyanikov
Population ecology - Original research

Abstract

Lemming cycles are a key process in the functioning of tundra ecosystems. Although it is agreed that trophic interactions are important in causing the cycles, the actual mechanism is disputed. Some researchers attribute a major role to predation by small mustelids such as stoats and least weasels. Here we present a 40-year time series of lemming dynamics from Wrangel Island and show statistically that lemmings do exhibit population cycles in the absence of small mustelids. The observed density fluctuations differed, however, from those observed elsewhere, with long cycles and possibly higher densities of lemmings during the low phase. These differences in the shape of the population cycles may be related to the unique species assemblage of Wrangel Island, where arctic foxes are the only year-round resident lemming predator, and to the high diversity of landscapes, microclimatic conditions, and plants on the island. Both spectral analysis and wavelet analysis show a change in period length from five years in the 1970s to nearly eight years in the 1990s and 2000s. This change in dynamics coincides with reports of dampening or fading out of lemming cycles that have been observed in several regions of the Arctic in recent decades. As in the other cases, the changed lemming dynamics on Wrangel Island may be related to ground icing in winter, which could delay peak years.

Keywords

Population dynamics Arctic Tundra ecosystem Climate change Predator–prey interactions 

Notes

Acknowledgments

The data collection forms part of the scientific program of the State Nature Reserve “Wrangel Island,” and we are grateful to the Nature Reserve for financing. Our collaboration was supported by the Research Council of Norway through the International Polar Year project “Arctic Predators,” and a grant from the Norwegian Directorate for Nature Management in connection with the Arctic Biodiversity Assessment. We thank Olivier Gilg and Xavier Lambin, as well as subject editor Janne Sundell, for their constructive review of the manuscript.

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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Irina E. Menyushina
    • 1
  • Dorothée Ehrich
    • 2
  • John-André Henden
    • 2
  • Rolf Anker Ims
    • 2
  • Nikita G. Ovsyanikov
    • 1
  1. 1.State Nature Reserve “Wrangel Island”PevekRussia
  2. 2.Institute of Arctic and Marine BiologyUniversity of TromsøTromsøNorway

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