Delayed density-dependent season length alone can lead to rodent population cycles

M J Smith, A White, Xavier Lambin, J A Sherratt, M Begon

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44 Citations (Scopus)


Studies of cyclic microtine populations (voles and lemmings) have suggested a relationship between the previous year's population density and the subsequent timing of the onset of reproduction by overwintered breeding females. No studies have explored the importance of this relationship in the generation of population cycles. Here we mathematically examine the implications of variation in reproductive season length caused by delayed densitydependent changes in its start date. We demonstrate that when reproductive season length is a function of past population densities, it is possible to get realistic population cycles without invoking any changes in birth rates or survival. When parameterized for field voles (Microtus agrestis) in Kielder Forest (northern England), our most realistic model predicts population cycles of similar periodicity to the Kielder populations. Our study highlights the potential importance of density-dependent reproductive timing in microtine population cycles and calls for investigations into the mechanism(s) underlying this phenomenon.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)695-704
Number of pages10
JournalThe American Naturalist
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - May 2006


  • population dynamics
  • Microtus agrestis
  • delayed density dependence
  • season length
  • life history
  • seasonality
  • Hokkaido
  • vole populations
  • small mammals
  • field voles
  • dynamics
  • Clethrionomys
  • predation
  • mechanisms
  • demography


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