Predator population dynamics under a cyclic prey regime: numerical responses, demographic parameters and growth rates

Alexandre Millon, Vincent Bretagnolle

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

45 Citations (Scopus)


The consequences of cyclic fluctuations in abundance of prey species on predator continue to improve our understanding of the mechanisms behind population regulation. Among predators, vole-eating raptors usually respond to changes in prey abundance with no apparent time-lag and therefore contradict predictions from the predator-prey theory. In such systems, the interplay between demographic traits and population growth rate in relation to prey abundance remains poorly studied, yet it is crucial to characterize the link between ecological processes and population changes. Using a mechanistic approach, we assessed the demographic rates associated to the direct and indirect numerical responses of a specialist raptor (Montagu's harrier) to its cyclic prey (common vole), using long term data from two adjacent study sites in France. First-year survival rates were weakly affected by vole abundance, probably due to the fact that Montagu's harriers are trans-Saharan migrants and thus escape the vole collapse occurring in autumn-winter. Recruitment of yearling as well as breeding propensity of experienced adult females were strongly affected by vole abundance and at least partially shaped the trajectory of the breeding population. We argued that the strong density dependent signal detected in predator time series was mostly the phenomenological consequence of the positive direct numerical response of harriers to vole abundance. Accounting for this, we proposed a method to assess density dependence in predator relying on a cyclic prey. Finally, the variation in Montagu's harrier population growth rates was best explained by overwinter growth rates of the prey population and to a lesser extent by previous residual predator density.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1500-1510
Number of pages11
Issue number10
Early online date24 Jul 2008
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2008


  • reproductive success
  • functional-responses
  • density-dependence
  • montagus harrier
  • food conditions
  • vole
  • owls
  • survival
  • stochasticity
  • abundance


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