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Interference in the tundra predator guild studied using local ecological knowledge


The decline or recolonization of apex predators such as wolves and lynx, often driven by management decisions, and the expansion of smaller generalist predators such as red foxes, can have important ecosystem impacts. The mesopredator release hypothesis proposes that apex predators control medium-sized predator populations through competition and/or intraguild predation. The decline of apex predators thus leads to an increase in mesopredators, possibly with a negative impact on prey populations. Information about the abundance of mammalian tundra predators, wolf (Canis lupus), wolverine (Gulo gulo), lynx (Lynx lynx), red fox (Vulpes vulpes) and arctic fox (Vulpes lagopus) was collected from local active outdoors people during semi-structured interviews in 14 low arctic or sub-arctic settlements in western Eurasia. The perceived abundance of red fox decreased with higher wolf abundance and in more arctic areas, but the negative effect of wolves decreased in more arctic and therefore less productive ecosystems. The perceived abundance of arctic fox increased towards the arctic and in areas with colder winters. Although there was a negative correlation between the two fox species, red fox was not included in the model for perceived arctic fox abundance, which received most support. Our results support the mesopredator release hypothesis regarding the expansion of red foxes in subarctic areas and indicate that top–down control by apex predators is weaker in less productive and more arctic ecosystems. We showed that local ecological knowledge is a valuable source of information about large-scale processes, which are difficult to study through direct biological investigations.

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We thank L. D. Salinder, N. V. Salinder, E. L. Palyanov, I. V. Kushnir, K. Y. Vanuito, I. K. Yande, D. V. Loginov, V. A. Matrekhin, A. A. Sharev, S. V. Fedoseevich, R. A. Kupchik, A. Anttila, Ø. Z. Arntzen, T. Halvari, B. H. Kristoffersen, M. Ballovara, F. Utsi, G. Vilho, K. Kivil, A. Ørjebu, K. Harjo, M. J. Fjeld, E. Sundland, I. Trane, A. P. Sarre, P. R. Hansen and all the other people providing information for this study. K. B. Klokov, S. A. Khrushev, O. Trofimova, A. Bocharnikova, D. Kaekhtin, V. H. Hausner and E. G. Broderstad participated in interviewing people. T. Tveraa and R. A. Ims provided valuable comments to drafts of the manuscript, and, A. Angerbjörn and two anonymous referees provided helpful comments on an earlier version. This study was funded by the Research Council of Norway through the project “TUNDRA” (grant no S192040/S30) and by the Norwegian Environment Agency through the project “Fjellrev i Finnmark”.

Author contribution statement

DE designed the study, all authors participated in collecting the data, DE and MAS analysed the data, all authors interpreted and discussed the results, DE and MAS wrote the manuscript with input from STK.

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Correspondence to Dorothee Ehrich.

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Communicated by Anders Angerbjörn.

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Ehrich, D., Strømeng, M.A. & Killengreen, S.T. Interference in the tundra predator guild studied using local ecological knowledge. Oecologia 180, 1195–1203 (2016).

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  • Lynx
  • Wolf
  • Wolverine
  • Arctic fox
  • Red fox