Polar Biology

, Volume 40, Issue 10, pp 2097–2103 | Cite as

Not only mosses: lemming winter diets as described by DNA metabarcoding

  • Eeva M. SoininenEmail author
  • Lucie Zinger
  • Ludovic Gielly
  • Nigel G. Yoccoz
  • John-Andre Henden
  • Rolf A. Ims
Short Note


The temporal dynamics of most tundra food webs are shaped by the cyclic population dynamics of lemmings. While processes during winter may be behind the recent disruptions of lemming cycles, lemming winter ecology is poorly known. We present here the first DNA metabarcoding data on the winter diet of Norwegian lemmings (Lemmus lemmus), based on feces collected after a winter of population increase. Prostrate willows, mosses, and graminoids dominated the species winter diet, indicating that the conventional idea of lemmings as moss-specialists should be revised. The behavior of lemming-plant models in theoretical studies is conditional on the assumptions of mosses being their main winter food item. As shrubs have been excluded from the framework of these models, incorporating them in future modeling studies should nuance our understanding on how plants affect lemmings. We also sampled diet of a few individuals found dead on top of the snow. These individuals had relatively empty stomachs and had, prior to death, relied heavily on mosses. This apparent lack of abundant good quality indicates spatial heterogeneity in local food availability during the population increase phase.


Arctic Bryophyte Lemmus lemmus Prostrate Salix Snowbed Winter 



We thank Siw Killengreen, Geir Vie, Sandra Hamel, Kristoffer H. Juell, Francisco Javier Ancin Murguzur, and Ingrid Jensvoll for collecting samples in the field; Christian Miquel, Delphine Rioux and Alice Valentini help with the laboratory; Eric Coissac for help with the bioinformatics analyses; and Eivind Flittie Kleiven for help with checking snow melt dates. The work of Eeva M. Soininen was supported by Oskar Huttunen foundation and the Fram Centre through the Climate-Ecological Observatory for Arctic Tundra (COAT). Sample collection was funded by the Research Council of Norway (project EcoFinn).


Funding was provided by Oskar Huttunen Foundation (Grant for doctoral studies) and Norwegian Research Council (Grant No. 184140).

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

We would like to mention that Ludovic Gielly is one of the co-inventors of a patent concerning g-h primers and the subsequent use of the P6 loop of the chloroplast trnL (UAA) intron for plant identification using degraded template DNA. These patents only restrict commercial applications and have no impact on the use of this locus by academic researchers.

Supplementary material

300_2017_2114_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (186 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (PDF 185 KB)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Arctic and Marine BiologyUiT – The Arctic University of NorwayTromsøNorway
  2. 2.Laboratoire d’Ecologie AlpineUMR CNRS-UGA-USMB 5553, Université Grenoble AlpesGrenoble Cedex 9France
  3. 3.Université Toulouse 3 Paul Sabatier, CNRS, ENFA, UMR 5174 EDBToulouseFrance

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