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Nature. 2000 Nov 9;408(6809):194-6.

Spatial synchronization of vole population dynamics by predatory birds.

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Department of Biology, University of Oslo, Norway.


Northern vole populations exhibit large-scale, spatially synchronous population dynamics. Such cases of population synchrony provide excellent opportunities for distinguishing between local intrinsic and regional extrinsic mechanisms of population regulation. Analyses of large-scale survey data and theoretical modelling have indicated several plausible synchronizing mechanisms. It is difficult, however, to determine the most important one without detailed data on local demographic processes. Here we combine results from two field studies in southeastern Norway--one identifies local demographic mechanisms and landscape-level annual synchrony among 28 enclosed experimental populations and the other examines region-level multi-annual synchrony in open natural populations. Despite fences eliminating predatory mammals and vole dispersal, the growth rates of the experimental populations were synchronized and moreover, perfectly linked with vole abundance in the region. The fates of 481 radio-marked voles showed that bird predation was the synchronizing mechanism. A higher frequency of risky dispersal movements in slowly growing populations appeared to accelerate predation rate. Thus, dispersal may induce a feedback-loop between predation and population growth that enhances synchrony.

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