The alternative prey hypothesis predicts that the interaction between generalist predators and their main prey is a major driver of population dynamics of alternative prey species. In Fennoscandia, changes in climate and human land use are assumed to alter the dynamics of cyclic small rodents (main prey) and lead to increased densities and range expansion of an important generalist predator, the red fox Vulpes vulpes. In order to better understand the role of these potential changes in community structure on an alternative prey species, willow ptarmigan Lagopus lagopus, we analyzed nine years of population census data from SE Norway to investigate how community interactions affected their population dynamics. The ptarmigan populations showed no declining trend during the study period, and annual variations corresponded with marked periodic small rodent peaks and declines. Population growth and breeding success were highly correlated, and both demographic variables were influenced by an interaction between red fox and small rodents. Red foxes affected ptarmigan negatively only when small rodent abundance was low, which is in accordance with the alternative prey hypothesis. Our results confirm the important role of red fox predation in ptarmigan dynamics, and indicate that if small rodent cycles are disrupted, this may lead to decline in ptarmigan and other alternative prey species due to elevated predation pressure.
The impact of anthropogenic disturbance on the fitness of prey should depend on the relative effect of human activities on different trophic levels. This verification remains rare, however, especially for large animals. We investigated the functional link between habitat selection of female caribou (Rangifer tarandus) and the survival of their calves, a fitness correlate. This top-down controlled population of the threatened forest-dwelling caribou inhabits a managed forest occupied by wolves (Canis lupus) and black bears (Ursus americanus). Sixty-one per cent of calves died from bear predation within two months following their birth. Variation in habitat selection tactics among mothers resulted in different mortality risks for their calves. When calves occupied areas with few deciduous trees, they were more likely to die from predation if the local road density was high. Although caribou are typically associated with pristine forests, females selected recent cutovers without negative impact on calf survival. This selection became detrimental, however, as regeneration took place in harvested stands owing to increased bear predation. We demonstrate that human disturbance has asymmetrical consequences on the trophic levels of a food web involving multiple large mammals, which resulted in habitat selection tactics with a greater short-term fitness payoff and, therefore, with higher evolutionary opportunity.
Cites: Oecologia. 2005 Jun;144(2):257-6715891849
Cites: Proc Biol Sci. 2006 Jun 22;273(1593):1449-5416777736
Apex predators may buffer bottom-up driven ecosystem change, as top-down suppression may dampen herbivore and mesopredator responses to increased resource availability. However, theory suggests that for this buffering capacity to be realized, the equilibrium abundance of apex predators must increase. This raises the question: will apex predators maintain herbivore/mesopredator limitation, if bottom-up change relaxes resource constraints? Here, we explore changes in mesopredator (red fox Vulpes vulpes) abundance over 220 years in response to eradication and recovery of an apex predator (Eurasian lynx Lynx lynx), and changes in land use and climate which are linked to resource availability. A three-step approach was used. First, recent data from Finland and Sweden were modelled to estimate linear effects of lynx density, land use and winter temperature on fox density. Second, lynx density, land use and winter temperature was estimated in a 22 650 km(2) focal area in boreal and boreo-nemoral Sweden in the years 1830, 1920, 2010 and 2050. Third, the models and estimates were used to project historic and future fox densities in the focal area. Projected fox density was lowest in 1830 when lynx density was high, winters cold and the proportion of cropland low. Fox density peaked in 1920 due to lynx eradication, a mesopredator release boosted by favourable bottom-up changes - milder winters and cropland expansion. By 2010, lynx recolonization had reduced fox density, but it remained higher than in 1830, partly due to the bottom-up changes. Comparing 1830 to 2010, the contribution of top-down limitation decreased, while environment enrichment relaxed bottom-up limitation. Future scenarios indicated that by 2050, lynx density would have to increase by 79% to compensate for a projected climate-driven increase in fox density. We highlight that although top-down limitation in theory can buffer bottom-up change, this requires compensatory changes in apex predator abundance. Hence apex predator recolonization/recovery to historical levels would not be sufficient to compensate for widespread changes in climate and land use, which have relaxed the resource constraints for many herbivores and mesopredators. Variation in bottom-up conditions may also contribute to context dependence in apex predator effects.
The Antarctic Peninsula is experiencing one of the fastest rates of regional climate change on Earth, resulting in the collapse of ice shelves, the retreat of glaciers and the exposure of new terrestrial habitat. In the nearby oceanic system, winter sea ice in the Bellingshausen and Amundsen seas has decreased in extent by 10% per decade, and shortened in seasonal duration. Surface waters have warmed by more than 1 K since the 1950s, and the Circumpolar Deep Water (CDW) of the Antarctic Circumpolar Current has also warmed. Of the changes observed in the marine ecosystem of the western Antarctic Peninsula (WAP) region to date, alterations in winter sea ice dynamics are the most likely to have had a direct impact on the marine fauna, principally through shifts in the extent and timing of habitat for ice-associated biota. Warming of seawater at depths below ca 100 m has yet to reach the levels that are biologically significant. Continued warming, or a change in the frequency of the flooding of CDW onto the WAP continental shelf may, however, induce sublethal effects that influence ecological interactions and hence food-web operation. The best evidence for recent changes in the ecosystem may come from organisms which record aspects of their population dynamics in their skeleton (such as molluscs or brachiopods) or where ecological interactions are preserved (such as in encrusting biota of hard substrata). In addition, a southwards shift of marine isotherms may induce a parallel migration of some taxa similar to that observed on land. The complexity of the Southern Ocean food web and the nonlinear nature of many interactions mean that predictions based on short-term studies of a small number of species are likely to be misleading.
In highly seasonal environments, offspring production by vertebrates is timed to coincide with the annual peak of resource availability. For herbivores, this resource peak is represented by the annual onset and progression of the plant growth season. As plant phenology advances in response to climatic warming, there is potential for development of a mismatch between the peak of resource demands by reproducing herbivores and the peak of resource availability. For migratory herbivores, such as caribou, development of a trophic mismatch is particularly likely because the timing of their seasonal migration to summer ranges, where calves are born, is cued by changes in day length, while onset of the plant-growing season on the same ranges is cued by local temperatures. Using data collected since 1993 on timing of calving by caribou and timing of plant growth in West Greenland, we document the consequences for reproductive success of a developing trophic mismatch between caribou and their forage plants. As mean spring temperatures at our study site have risen by more than 4 degrees C, caribou have not kept pace with advancement of the plant-growing season on their calving range. As a consequence, offspring mortality has risen and offspring production has dropped fourfold.
Temperature-driven changes in interactions between populations are crucial to the estimation of the impact of global warming on aquatic food webs. We analysed inter-annual variability in two data sets from Bautzen reservoir, Germany. In a long-term data set (1981-1999) we examined the pelagic phenology of Daphnia galeata, a keystone species, the invertebrate predator Leptodora kindtii, phytoplankton and Secchi depth in relation to water temperature and the North Atlantic Oscillation index. In a short-term data set (1995-1998) we examined food web relations, particularly the consumption of D. galeata by young-of-the-year (YOY) percids and L. kindtii and rates of population change of D. galeata (abundance, recruitment pattern and non-consumptive mortality). The start of the clear-water stage (CWS) was correlated with winter temperatures. It started 5.8 days earlier per degree warming after warm winters (mean January-March temperature>or=2.5 degrees C) compared to cold winters (mean temperatureor=14 degrees C) compared to years when it was low (
Environmental variability, through interannual variation in food availability or climatic variables, is usually detrimental to population growth. It can even select for constancy in key life-history traits, though some exceptions are known. Changes in the level of environmental variability are therefore important to predict population growth or life-history evolution. Recently, several cyclic vole and lemming populations have shown large dynamical changes that might affect the demography or life-histories of rodent predators. Skuas constitute an important case study among rodent predators, because of their strongly saturating breeding productivity (they lay only two eggs) and high degree of site fidelity, in which they differ from nomadic predators raising large broods in good rodent years. This suggests that they cannot capitalize on lemming peaks to the same extent as nomadic predators and might be more vulnerable to collapses of rodent cycles. We develop a model for the population dynamics of long-tailed skuas feeding on lemmings to assess the demographic consequences of such variable and non-stationary prey dynamics, based on data collected in NE Greenland. The model shows that populations of long-tailed skua sustain well changes in lemming dynamics, including temporary collapses (e.g. 10 years). A high floater-to-breeder ratio emerges from rigid territorial behaviour and a long-life expectancy, which buffers the impact of adult abundance's decrease on the population reproductive output. The size of the floater compartment is affected by changes in both mean and coefficient of variation of lemming densities (but not cycle amplitude and periodicity per se). In Greenland, the average lemming density is below the threshold density required for successful breeding (including during normally cyclic periods). Due to Jensen's inequality, skuas therefore benefit from lemming variability; a positive effect of environmental variation. Long-tailed skua populations are strongly adapted to fluctuating lemming populations, an instance of demographic lability in the reproduction rate. They are also little affected by poor lemming periods, if there are enough floaters, or juveniles disperse to neighbouring populations. The status of Greenland skua populations therefore strongly depends upon floater numbers and juvenile movements, which are not known. This reveals a need to intensify colour-ringing efforts on the long-tailed skua at a circumpolar scale.
In this article we extend the theory of community prediction by presenting seven hypotheses for predicting community structure in a directionally changing world. The first three address well-studied community responses to environmental and ecological change: ecological communities are most likely to exhibit threshold changes in structure when perturbations cause large changes in limiting soil or sediment resources, dominant or keystone species, or attributes of disturbance regime that influence community recruitment. Four additional hypotheses address social-ecological interactions and apply to both ecological communities and social-ecological systems. Human responsiveness to short-term and local costs and benefits often leads to human actions with unintended long-term impacts, particularly those that are far from the site of decision making or are geographically dispersed. Policies are usually based on past conditions of ecosystem services rather than expected future trends. Finally, institutions that strengthen negative feedbacks between human actions and social-ecological consequences can reduce human impacts through more responsive (and thus more effective) management of public ecosystem services. Because of the large role that humans play in modifying ecosystems and ecosystem services, it is particularly important to test and improve social-ecological hypotheses as a basis for shaping appropriate policies for long-term ecosystem resilience.
We analyze a discrete version of a recently developed ratio dependent population-resource model. This model has been used to study the decline of the human and resource populations on Easter Island and the chaotic dynamics of moose and wolf populations in Canada. The dynamical system exhibits a rich behavior of fractal basins of attraction and a Neimark-Sacker bifurcation route to chaos. The model consists of a coupled pair of logistic equations, with the carrying capacity for the predators proportional to the number of prey.