A1 Journal article – refereed
Increased autumn rainfall disrupts predator-prey interactions in fragmented boreal forests

List of Authors: Terraube J., Villers A., Poudré L., Varjonen R., Korpimäki E.
Publisher: WILEY
Publication year: 2017
Journal: Global Change Biology
Volume number: 23
Issue number: 4
eISSN: 1365-2486


There is a pressing need to understand how changing climate interacts with land-use change to affect predator-prey interactions in fragmented landscapes. This is particularly true in boreal ecosystems facing fast climate change and intensification in forestry practices. Here, we investigated the relative influence of autumn climate and habitat quality on the food-storing behaviour of a generalist predator, the pygmy owl, using a unique data set of 15 850 prey items recorded in western Finland over 12 years. Our results highlighted strong effects of autumn climate (number of days with rainfall and with temperature < 0 degrees C) on food-store composition. Increasing frequency of days with precipitation in autumn triggered a decrease in (i) total prey biomass stored, (ii) the number of bank voles (main prey) stored, and (iii) the scaled mass index of pygmy owls. Increasing proportions of old spruce forests strengthened the functional response of owls to variations in vole abundance and were more prone to switch from main prey to alternative prey (passerine birds) depending on local climate conditions. High-quality habitat may allow pygmy owls to buffer negative effects of inclement weather and cyclic variation in vole abundance. Additionally, our results evidenced sexspecific trends in body condition, as the scaled mass index of smaller males increased while the scaled mass index of larger females decreased over the study period, probably due to sex-specific foraging strategies and energy requirements. Long-term temporal stability in local vole abundance refutes the hypothesis of climate-driven change in vole abundance and suggests that rainier autumns could reduce the vulnerability of small mammals to predation by pygmy owls. As small rodents are key prey species for many predators in northern ecosystems, our findings raise concern about the impact of global change on boreal food webs through changes in main prey vulnerability.

Last updated on 2019-29-01 at 17:57