Long-term patterns in winter habitat selection, breeding and predation in a density-fluctuating, high Arctic lemming population

Abstract

Habitat selection is expected to balance benefits and costs that maximizes fitness. Using a rare data set on collared lemming (Dicrostonyx groenlandicus) winter nest location spanning more than two decades, we show that lemmings actively select for Salix snow beds, likely due to its favorable micro-climate, and that lemming habitat selection was density-dependent. Lemmings nevertheless exhibited some flexibility in their habitat selection, which appeared to be influenced by the year-to-year variation in snow conditions. The likelihood of both lemming breeding and nest predation by stoats (Mustela erminea) was not directly linked to habitat despite a delicate interplay between habitat, nest size, breeding, and predation. Hence, the larger lemming nests were found in Salix snow beds, and these were more often used for breeding, but both larger nests and nests used for breeding were also predated more often than other nests. Our study provides a clear example of how density-dependent habitat selection acts to balance fitness in the various habitats utilized by collared lemmings.

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Data availability

Data are publically available at http://data.ge-m.dk.

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Acknowledgements

We are indebted to the Greenland Ecosystem Monitoring program for access to ecosystem data and to the many dedicated field workers over the years, and to the Danish Environmental Protection Agency for their financial support.

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Authors

Contributions

NMS, DWM, and FMvB conceived and designed the experiment. LHH and NMS collected the field data. MS and AD analyzed the data. NMS wrote the first draft, and all authors contributed to the final manuscript.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Niels M. Schmidt.

Additional information

Communicated by Nicolas Lecomte.

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Schmidt, N.M., van Beest, F.M., Dupuch, A. et al. Long-term patterns in winter habitat selection, breeding and predation in a density-fluctuating, high Arctic lemming population. Oecologia 195, 927–935 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00442-021-04882-2

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Keywords

  • Competition
  • Density-dependence
  • Predation
  • Reproduction