, 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 EhrichEmail author
  • John-André Henden
  • Rolf Anker Ims
  • Nikita G. Ovsyanikov
Population ecology - Original research


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.


Population dynamics Arctic Tundra ecosystem Climate change Predator–prey interactions 



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.


  1. Andersson M, Erlinge S (1977) Influence of predation on rodent populations. Oikos 29:591–597CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Angerbjorn A, Tannerfeldt M, Lundberg H (2001) Geographical and temporal patterns of lemming population dynamics in Fennoscandia. Ecography 24:298–308Google Scholar
  3. Bauch HA, Mueller-Lupp T, Taldenkova E, Spielhagen RF, Kassens H, Grootes PM, Thiede J, Heinemeier J, Petryashov VV (2001) Chronology of the Holocene transgression at the North Siberian margin. Glob Planet Change 31:125–139CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Belyaev VG, Shamurin VF (1967) Materials about the ecology of lemmings on Wrangel Island. Bull Irkutsk Anti-Plague Inst Sib Far East 22:42–59 (in Russian)Google Scholar
  5. Bierman SM, Fairbairn JP, Petty SJ, Elston DA, Tidhar D, Lambin X (2006) Changes over time in the spatiotemporal dynamics of cyclic populations of field voles (Microtus agrestis L.). Am Nat 167:583–590PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Boonstra R, Krebs CJ, Stenseth NC (1998) Population cycles in small mammals: the problem of explaining the low phase. Ecology 79:1479–1488CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Brommer JE, Pietiainen H, Ahola K, Karell P, Karstinen T, Kolunen H (2010) The return of the vole cycle in southern Finland refutes the generality of the loss of cycles through “climatic forcing.” Glob Change Biol 16:577–586CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Careau V, Giroux JF, Gauthier G, Berteaux D (2008) Surviving on cached foods—the energetics of egg-caching by arctic foxes. Can J Zool 86:1217–1223CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Cazelles B, Chavez M, Berteaux D, Menard F, Vik JO, Jenouvrier S, Stenseth NC (2008) Wavelet analysis of ecological time series. Oecologia 156:287–304PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Chernyavsky FB (1969) Ecological observations of Siberian (Lemmus sibiricus) and collared (Dicrostonyx torquatus) lemmings on Wrangel Island. Zool Zh 48:752–756 (in Russian)Google Scholar
  11. Chernyavsky FB (1979) Population dynamics and population indices of Lemmus sibiricus and Dicrostonyx torquatus on Wrangel Island. Zool Zh 58:553–562 (in Russian)Google Scholar
  12. Chernyavsky FB, Dorogoi IV (1988) Relations between myophagous predators and lemmings in arctic ecosystem (with Wrangel Island taken as an example). Zh Obs Biol 49:813–824Google Scholar
  13. Chernyavsky FB, Tkachev AV (1982) Population cycles of lemmings in the Arctic: ecological and endocrinological aspects. Nauka, Moscow (in Russian)Google Scholar
  14. Chernyavsky FB, Kiryuschenko SP, Kiryuschenko TV (1981) Materials on the winter ecology of the brown (Lemmus sibiricus) and collared (Dicrostonyx torquatus) lemmings. In: Krivosheev VG (ed) Ecology of mammals and birds of Wrangel Island. Acad Sci USSR, Vladivostok, pp 99–122 (in Russian)Google Scholar
  15. Denisenko AM (1986) Annual dynamics of lemming abundance (Lemmus sibiricus and Dicrostonyx vinogradovi) on Wrangel Island. In: The animal world of Wrangel Island. Far-East Branch Acad Sci USSR, Vladivostok, pp 109–113 (in Russian)Google Scholar
  16. Dorogoi IV (1987) Ecology of the myophagous predators of Wrangel Island and their role in the dynamics of lemming abundance. Acad Sci USSR, Vladivostok (in Russian)Google Scholar
  17. Gauthier G, Bety J, Giroux JF, Rochefort L (2004) Trophic interactions in a high arctic snow goose colony. Integr Comp Biol 44:119–129PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Gauthier G, Berteaux D, Krebs CJ, Reid D (2009) Arctic lemmings are not simply food limited—a comment on Oksanen et al. Evol Ecol Res 11:483–484Google Scholar
  19. Gilg O, Hanski I, Sittler B (2003) Cyclic dynamics in a simple vertebrate predator–prey community. Science 302:866–868Google Scholar
  20. Gilg O, Sittler B, Sabard B, Hurstel A, Sane R, Delattre P, Hanski L (2006) Functional and numerical responses of four lemming predators in high arctic Greenland. Oikos 113:193–216CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Gilg O, Sittler B, Hanski I (2009) Climate change and cyclic predator–prey population dynamics in the high Arctic. Glob Change Biol 15:2634–2652CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Gorodkov KB, Siroechkovskyi EV, Ovsyanikov NG (1987) Flora and fauna of nature reserves of the USSR. Fauna of Wrangel Island Nature Reserve, VINITIGoogle Scholar
  23. 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
  24. Gruzdev AR, Sipko TP (2007a) Reindeer (Rangifer tarandus) on Wrangel Island: dynamic of a population and a modern condition. In: Gruzdev AR (ed) The nature of Wrangel Island: contemporary researches. Asterion, St. Petersburg, pp 117–135 (in Russian)Google Scholar
  25. Gruzdev AR, Sipko TP (2007b) Modern status and population dynamics of Wrangel Island muskoxen (Ovibos moschatus Zimmermann, 1780). In: Gruzdev AR (ed) The nature of Wrangel Island: contemporary researches. Asterion, St. Petersburg, pp 103–116 (in Russian)Google Scholar
  26. Hanski I, Henttonen H (1996) Predation on competing rodent species: a simple explanation of complex patterns. J Anim Ecol 65:220–232Google Scholar
  27. Hanski I, Hansson L, Henttonen H (1991) Specialist predators, generalist predators, and the microtine rodent cycle. J Anim Ecol 60:353–367CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Hanski I, Henttonen H, Korpimaki E, Oksanen L, Turchin P (2001) Small-rodent dynamics and predation. Ecology 82:1505–1520CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Hastings A (2004) Transients: the key to long-term ecological understanding? Trends Ecol Evol 19:39–45PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Hörnfeldt B (2004) Long-term decline in numbers of cyclic voles in boreal Sweden: analysis and presentation of hypotheses. Oikos 107:376–392CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Ims RA, Fuglei E (2005) Trophic interaction cycles in tundra ecosystems and the impact of climate change. Bioscience 55:311–322CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Ims RA, Henden JA, Killengreen ST (2008) Collapsing population cycles. Trends Ecol Evol 23:79–86PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Ims RA, Yoccoz NG, Killengreen ST (2011) Determinants of lemming outbreaks. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 108:1970–1974PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Kausrud KL, Mysterud A, Steen H, Vik JO, Ostbye E, Cazelles B, Framstad E, Eikeset AM, Mysterud I, Solhoy T, Stenseth NC (2008) Linking climate change to lemming cycles. Nature 456:93PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Kendall BE, Prendergast J, Bjornstad ON (1998) The macroecology of population dynamics: taxonomic and biogeographic patterns in population cycles. Ecol Lett 1:160–164CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Korslund L, Steen H (2006) Small rodent winter survival: snow conditions limit access to food resources. J Anim Ecol 75:156–166PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Krebs CJ (2011) Of lemmings and snowshoe hares: the ecology of northern Canada. Proc R Soc Lond B Biol Sci 278:481–489CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Krebs CJ, Kenney AJ, Gilbert S, Danell K, Angerbjorn A, Erlinge S, Bromley RG, Shank C, Carriere S (2002) Synchrony in lemming and vole populations in the Canadian Arctic. Can J Zool 80:1323–1333CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Krechmar AV, Dorogoi IV (1981) Snowy owl Nyctea scandiaca L. In: Ecology of mammals and birds of Wrangel Island. Far-East Branch Acad Sci USSR, Vladivostok, pp 56–81 (in Russian)Google Scholar
  40. Litvin KE, Baranyuk VV (1989) Reproduction of snowy owls (Nyctea scandiaca) and lemming abundance on Wrangel Island. In: Chernov YuI (ed) Birds in tundra communities. Nauka, Moscow (in Russian)Google Scholar
  41. Litvin KE, Ovsyanikov NG (1990) Relationship between the reproduction and numbers of snowy owls and arctic foxes and the numbers of true lemmings on Wrangel Island. Zool Zh 69:52–64 (in Russian)Google Scholar
  42. Menyushina IE (2007) Changes of reproductive parameters in population of snowy owls (Nyctea scandiaca, L.) on Wrangel Island during two lemming population cycles. In: Gruzdev AR (ed) The nature of Wrangel Island: contemporary researches. St. Petersburg, Asterion, pp 32–58 (in Russian)Google Scholar
  43. Menyushina IE (2011) Intespecies relations between arctic fox (Alopex lagopus L.) and snowy owl (Nyctea scandiaca L.) in an island arctic ecosystem (Ph.D. dissertation). University of Moscow, Moscow (in Russian)Google Scholar
  44. Oksanen T, Oksanen L, Dahlgren J, Ofsson J (2008) Arctic lemmings, Lemmus spp. and Dicrostonyx spp.: integrating ecological and evolutionary perspectives. Evol Ecol Res 10:415–434Google Scholar
  45. Ovsyanikov NG (1993) Behaviour and social organization of the Arctic fox. CNIL, Moscow (in Russian)Google Scholar
  46. Pitelka FA, Batzli GO (2007) Population cycles of lemmings near Barrow, Alaska: a historical review. Acta Theriol 52:323–336CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Pulyaev AI (1988) Flora of Wrangel Island Nature Reserve. In: Yurtsev BA (ed) Flora and fauna of nature reserves of the USSR. VINITI, Moscow (in Russian)Google Scholar
  48. R Development Core Team (2011) R: a language and environment for statistical computing. R Foundation for Statistical Computing, ViennaGoogle Scholar
  49. Reid DG, Krebs CJ, Kenney A (1995) Limitation of collared lemming population-growth at low-densities by predation mortality. Oikos 73:387–398CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Saitoh T, Cazelles B, Vik JO, Viljugrein H, Stenseth NC (2006) Effects of regime shifts on the population dynamics of the grey-sided vole in Hokkaido, Japan. Clim Res 32:109–118CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. 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
  52. Stauch G, Gualtieri L (2008) Late Quaternary glaciations in Northeastern Russia. J Quat Sci 23:545–558CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Steen H, Yoccoz NG, Ims RA (1990) Predators and small rodent cycles—an analysis of a 79-year time-series of small rodent population fluctuations. Oikos 59:115–120CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Stenseth NC, Ims RA (1993) The biology of lemmings. Academic, LondonGoogle Scholar
  55. Svatkov NM (1970) Wrangel Island. In: Gerasimov IP, Gakkel YaYa, Govorukha LS (eds) The soviet Arctic. Nauka, Moscow, pp 453–481 (in Russian)Google Scholar
  56. The Mathworks Inc (2010) MATLAB: the language for technical computing, version (R2010b). Available from
  57. Torrence C, Compo GP (1998) A practical guide to wavelet analysis. Bull Am Meteorol Soc 79:61–78CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Travina IV (2002) Long-term dynamics of lemming numbers on Wrangel Island. Arct Birds 4:32–37Google Scholar
  59. Turchin P, Oksanen L, Ekerholm P, Oksanen T, Henttonen H (2000) Are lemmings prey or predators? Nature 405:562–565PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. Volkov SV, Morozov VV, Sharikov AV (2005) Owls of the northern Eurasia. Russian Acad Sci, Moscow (in Russian)Google Scholar
  61. Walker DA, Raynolds MK, Daniels FJA, Einarsson E, Elvebakk A, Gould WA, Katenin AE, Kholod SS, Markon CJ, Melnikov ES, Moskalenko NG, Talbot SS, Yurtsev BA (2005) The circumpolar arctic vegetation map. J Veg Sci 16:267–282CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  62. Wilson DJ, Krebs CJ, Sinclair T (1999) Limitations of collared lemming populations during a population cycle. Oikos 87:382–398CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Irina E. Menyushina
    • 1
  • Dorothée Ehrich
    • 2
    Email author
  • 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

Personalised recommendations