, Volume 173, Issue 2, pp 439–447 | Cite as

Life history traits in a cyclic ecosystem: a field experiment on the arctic fox

  • Tomas Meijer
  • Bodil Elmhagen
  • Nina E. Eide
  • Anders Angerbjörn
Population ecology - Original research


The reproduction of many species depends strongly on variation in food availability. The main prey of the arctic fox in Fennoscandia are cyclic small rodents, and its number of litters and litter size vary depending on the phase of the rodent cycle. In this experiment, we studied if the arctic fox adjusts its reproduction as a direct response to food abundance, in accordance with the food limitation hypothesis, or if there are additional phase-dependent trade-offs that influence its reproduction. We analysed the weaning success, i.e. proportion of arctic fox pairs established during mating that wean a litter in summer, of 422 pairs of which 361 were supplementary winter fed, as well as the weaned litter size of 203 litters of which 115 were supplementary winter fed. Females without supplementary winter food over-produced cubs in relation to food abundance in the small rodent increase phase, i.e. the litter size was equal to that in the peak phase when food was more abundant. The litter size for unfed females was 6.38 in the increase phase, 7.11 in the peak phase and 3.84 in the decrease phase. The litter size for supplementary winter-fed litters was 7.95 in the increase phase, 10.61 in the peak phase and 7.86 in the decrease phase. Thus, feeding had a positive effect on litter size, but it did not diminish the strong impact of the small rodent phase, supporting phase-dependent trade-offs in addition to food determining arctic fox reproduction.


Litter size Conservation Alopex lagopus Supplementary feeding Life history 



The data collection has been funded by many sources, especially the county administrations in Jämtland, Västerbotte and, Nordland, the Norwegian Directorate for Nature Management, the Swedish Nature Protection Agency, the World Wide Fund (WWF) Sweden, Ekoklim, and the two EU LIFE projects CEFALO and SEFALO+. Park rangers as well as many volunteers did a great job in carrying out the field work. Co-financiers were also WWF Sweden, Fjällräven, the Cronstedt Foundation, the Swedish Research Council FORMAS, the Göran Gustavssons stiftelse, the CF Lundströms stiftelse, the Stiftelsen Stina Werners Fond/Skogssällskapet. Erik Framstad at NINA provided small rodent data for Norway.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Tomas Meijer
    • 1
  • Bodil Elmhagen
    • 1
  • Nina E. Eide
    • 2
  • Anders Angerbjörn
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of ZoologyStockholm UniversityStockholmSweden
  2. 2.Norwegian Institute for Nature ResearchTrondheimNorway

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