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Ecological processes determining the distribution dynamics of vole populations during forest succession

  • Behavioral ecology –original research
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The size and distribution of animal populations may vary drastically over time following a disturbance event. While both competition and predation can control the size of animal populations, changes in the relative importance of these two density-dependent processes remain poorly documented during ecological succession. Here, we combined habitat selection and optimal foraging theory to identify the processes that can explain the increase in red-backed voles (Myodes gapperi) during post-logging forest succession in boreal ecosystems. Specifically, we assessed the extent to which changes in intra- and interspecific competition and in predation risk can explain variation in abundance and distribution of voles during post-harvest forest succession. We estimated the abundances of the red-backed vole and of its main competitor, the deer mouse (Peromyscus maniculatus), in adjacent pairs of logged (5–66 years old) forest stands and uncut stands (> 120 years old). We found that voles increased their preference for uncut stands with increasing conspecific density. Foraging experiments revealed that in early-seral forest stands, voles increased their feeding effort in the presence of deer mice, particularly in safer food patches. This behaviour is expected from foraging theory when interspecific competitors increase predation risk. Apparent competition would thus limit the density of red-backed voles, and changes in the relative strength of this process during forest succession would control patterns of distribution and abundance of the species.

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We thank Orphé Bichet, Andréanne Beardsell, Maxime Cotnoir, Pascal Royer-Boutin, Marie-Hélène Chabot, Gabriel Emond, Adam Moreira and Jean-Pierre Michaud for their help at different stages of the study, and W.F.J. Parsons for English revision. This research was funded by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC)—Laval University Industrial Research Chair in Silviculture and Wildlife.

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HLB, AD and DF conceived and designed the experiments. HLB and AD performed the experiments. HLB analyzed the data. HLB, AD and DF wrote the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Hélène Le Borgne.

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Communicated by Peter Banks.

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Le Borgne, H., Dupuch, A. & Fortin, D. Ecological processes determining the distribution dynamics of vole populations during forest succession. Oecologia 188, 721–732 (2018).

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