A1 Journal article – refereed
RESPONSES OF STOATS AND LEAST WEASELS TO FLUCTUATING FOOD ABUNDANCES - IS THE LOW PHASE OF THE VOLE CYCLE DUE TO MUSTELID PREDATION




List of Authors: KORPIMAKI E, NORRDAHL K, RINTAJASKARI T
Publisher: SPRINGER VERLAG
Publication year: 1991
Journal: Oecologia
Journal name in source: OECOLOGIA
Journal acronym: OECOLOGIA
Volume number: 88
Number of pages: 10
ISSN: 0029-8549

Abstract
We studied responses of stoats and least weasels to fluctuating vole abundances during seven winters in western Finland. Density indices of mustelids were derived from snow-tracking, diet composition from scat samples, and vole abundances from snap-trapping. Predation rate was estimated by the ratio of voles to mustelids and by the vole kill rate by predators (density of predator x percentage of voles in the diet). We tested the following four predictions of the hypothesis that small mustelids cause the low phase of the microtine cycle. (1) The densities of predators should lag well behind the prey abundances, as time lags tend to have destabilizing effects. The densities of stoats fluctuated in accordance with the vole abundances, whereas the spring densities of least weasels tracked the vole abundances with a half-year lag and the autumn densities with a 1-year lag. (2) Predators should not shift to alternative prey with declining vole densities. The yearly proportion of Microtus voles (the staple prey) in the diet of stoats varied widely (range 16-82%) and was positively correlated with the winter abundance of these voles. In contrast, the same proportion in the food of least weasels was independent of the vole abundance. (3) The ratio of voles to small mustelids should be smallest in poor vole years and largest in good ones. This was also observed. (4) Vole densities from autumn to spring should decrease more in those winters when vole kill rates are high than when they are tow. The data on least weasels agreed with this prediction. Our results from least weasels were consistent with the predictions of the hypothesis, but stoats behaved like "semi-generalist" predators. Accordingly, declines and lows in the microtine cycle may be due to least weasel predation, but other extrinsic factors may also contribute to crashes.

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