Vole population cycles in northern and southern Europe: Is there a need for different explanations for single pattern?

Xavier Lambin, Vincent Bretagnolle, Nigel G Yoccoz

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

132 Citations (Scopus)


Students of population cycles in small rodents in Fennoscandia have accumulated support for the predation hypothesis, which states that the gradient in cycle length and amplitude running from southern to northern Fennoscandia reflects the relative influence of specialist and generalist predators on vole dynamics, itself modulated by the presence of snow cover. The hypothesized role of snow cover is to isolate linked specialist predators, primarily the least weasel, Mustela n. nivalis L. and their prey, primarily field voles Microtus agrestis L., from the stabilizing influence of generalist predators.

The predation hypothesis does not readily account for the high amplitude and regular 3-year cycles of common voles documented in agricultural areas of western, central and eastern Europe. Such cycles are rarely mentioned in the literature pertaining to Fennoscandian cycles.

We consider new data on population cycles and demographic patterns of common voles Microtus arvalis Pallas in south-west France. We show that the patterns are wholly consistent with five of six patterns that characterize rodent cycles in Fennoscandia and that are satisfactorily explained by the predation hypothesis. They include the: (a) existence of cycle; (b) the occurrence of long-term changes in relative abundance and type of dynamics; (c) geographical synchrony over large areas; (d) interspecific synchrony; and (e) voles are large in the increase and peak phase and small in decline and low phase, namely. There is a striking similarity between the patterns shown by common vole populations in south-west France and those from Fennoscandian cyclic rodent populations, although the former are not consistent with a geographical extension of the latitudinal gradient south of Fennoscandia.

It is possible that the dominant interaction leading to multiannual rodent oscillations is different in different regions. We argue, however, that advocates of the predation hypothesis should embrace the challenge of developing a widely applicable explanation to population cycles, including justifying any limits to its applicability on ecological and not geographical grounds.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)340-349
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Animal Ecology
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2006


  • Clethrionomys
  • cycles
  • lemmings
  • Microtus
  • population dynamics
  • predation
  • parsimony
  • voles
  • density-dependent structure
  • microtus-arvalis
  • small mammals
  • common vole
  • montagus harrier
  • rodent dynamics
  • Hokkaido
  • model
  • prey


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