Fox predation on cyclic field vole populations in Britain

D O'Mahony, X Lambin, J L MacKinnon, C F Coles

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40 Citations (Scopus)


The diet of the red fox Vulpes vulpes L. was studied during three winter periods in spruce plantations in Britain, during which time the cyclic field vole Microtus agrestis L. populations varied in abundance. Field voles and roe deer Capreolus capreolus L. were the two main prey species in the diet of the red fox. The contribution of lagomorphs to fox diet never exceeded 35% and species of small mammal other than field voles were of minor importance. The contribution of held voles was dependent on vole density. The non-linear density dependent relationship with a rather abrupt increase of field voles in fox diet when vole density exceeded ca 100 voles ha(-1) was consistent with a prey-switching response. The contribution of field voles to fox diet during the low phase of population cycles was lower in Kielder Forest than in other ecosystems with cyclic vole populations. The number of foxes killed annually by forestry rangers was consistent with the evidence from other studies that foxes preying on cyclic small rodents might show a delayed numerical response to changes in vole abundance. Estimates of the maximum predation rate of the fox alone (200-290 voles ha(-1) L of vole habitat year(-1)) was well above a previously predicted value for the whole generalist predator community in Kielder Forest. Our data on the functional response of red foxes and estimates of their predation rates suggest that foxes should have a strong stabilising impact on vole populations, yet voles show characteristic 3-4 yr cycles.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)575-581
Number of pages7
Publication statusPublished - 1999


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