Effet du couvert nival, de la nourriture et de la prédation hivernale sur la dynamique de population des lemmings

Authors: Bilodeau, Frédéric
Advisor: Gauthier, Gilles
Abstract: Lemmings are renowned for their multi-annual population cycles. Yet, what controls these cycles is still poorly understood. There are large gaps in our understanding of their winter ecology and a snow cover of good quality is thought to be an important factor for maintaining the cyclic dynamic of lemming populations. We first enhanced snow cover by setting out snow fences and found that densities of winter nests were higher where snow depth was increased but that reproduction was not influenced. We then used an 18-year time series of brown lemming (Lemmus trimucronatus) abundance to test if snow variables could explain the residual variation between the observed lemming density and the one predicted by models where cyclicity had been accounted for. Our analysis provides support for the hypothesis that snow cover can affect the amplitude of lemming population cycles. Summer abundance of lemmings was higher following winters with a deep snow cover and a low-density snow pack near the ground. In addition, we attempted to live trap lemmings under the snow in their preferred winter habitat using chimney-like boxes. We hypothesize that our low trapping success resulted from lemmings leaving the deeper snow areas where our boxes were located and moving to shallower snow or exposed tundra due to an inversion of sub-nivean temperatures in spring. We also examined if winter food resources could limit lemming populations by installing exclosures in their preferred habitat and sampling annually plant biomass inside and outside exclosures at snow-melt and at peak growth. Winter grazing had little impact on total plant biomass at snow-melt. Overall, plant regrowth during the summer showed few annual variation and was not reduced in years of high lemming abundance. Our results suggest that it is unlikely that food depletion during winter was the cause of the decline in lemming abundance following a year of peak abundance. We then tested if snow quality should affect mammalian predation rates on lemmings and found that deep and hard snow restricted fox (Vulpes lagopus) predation attempts made by jumping through the snow, but not those made by digging. Ermine (Mustela erminea) predation was unaffected by snow depth and weakly by nest density but was higher in stream gully habitats. Finally, we examined patterns of predation by ermines on lemmings. Our results indicate that ermines may play a key role in the lemming decline phase, by removing a large proportion of the lemming population during summers of peak abundance and by maintaining a high predation pressure during the following winter. In conclusion, it appears unlikely that bottom-up forces are at the origin of the lemming cycle at Bylot Island. However, our results suggest that predation, in combination with snow cover, could play a major role in the lemming population cycle.
Document Type: Thèse de doctorat
Issue Date: 2013
Open Access Date: 20 April 2018
Permalink: http://hdl.handle.net/20.500.11794/24910
Grantor: Université Laval
Collection:Thèses et mémoires

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