Seasonal difference in temporal transferability of an ecological model: near-term predictions of lemming outbreak abundances.
ABSTRACT: Ecological models have been criticized for a lack of validation of their temporal transferability. Here we answer this call by investigating the temporal transferability of a dynamic state-space model developed to estimate season-dependent biotic and climatic predictors of spatial variability in outbreak abundance of the Norwegian lemming. Modelled summer and winter dynamics parametrized by spatial trapping data from one cyclic outbreak were validated with data from a subsequent outbreak. There was a distinct difference in model transferability between seasons. Summer dynamics had good temporal transferability, displaying ecological models' potential to be temporally transferable. However, the winter dynamics transferred poorly. This discrepancy is likely due to a temporal inconsistency in the ability of the climate predictor (i.e. elevation) to reflect the winter conditions affecting lemmings both directly and indirectly. We conclude that there is an urgent need for data and models that yield better predictions of winter processes, in particular in face of the expected rapid climate change in the Arctic.
Project description:Population outbreaks in tundra rodents have intrigued scientists for a century as a result of their spectacular appearances and their general lessons in ecology. One outstanding question that has led to competing hypotheses is why sympatric lemmings and voles differ in regularity and shape of their outbreaks. Lemming outbreaks may be lost for decades while vole populations maintain regular population cycles. Moreover, when lemming populations eventually irrupt, they do so more steeply than the vole populations. Norwegian lemmings exhibited a large-scale outbreak synchronously with gray-sided voles in Finnmark, northern Fennoscandia, during 2006 to 2007 for the first time in two decades. Analyses of spatial variability of this outbreak across altitudinal gradients allowed us to identify determinants of the contrasting lemming and vole dynamics. The steeper lemming outbreak trajectories were caused by breeding and population growth during winter, when nonbreeding vole populations consistently declined. The differently shaped lemming and vole outbreaks appear to result from a particular demographic tactic of lemmings that evolved as an adaptation to the long and cold Arctic-Alpine winters. The lemming outbreak amplitude increased with altitude and vole density, indicating that lemming outbreaks are jointly facilitated by low temperatures and apparent mutualism with voles mediated by shared predators. High sensitivity to variation in climate and predation is likely to be the reasons why lemmings have more erratic population dynamics than sympatric voles. The combination of continued climatic warming and dampened vole cycles is expected to further decrease the frequency, amplitude, and geographic range of lemming outbreaks in tundra ecosystems.
Project description:Sympatric species are expected to minimize competition by partitioning resources, especially when these are limited. Herbivores inhabiting the High Arctic in winter are a prime example of a situation where food availability is anticipated to be low, and thus reduced diet overlap is expected. We present here the first assessment of diet overlap of high arctic lemmings during winter based on DNA metabarcoding of feces. In contrast to previous analyses based on microhistology, we found that the diets of both collared (Dicrostonyx groenlandicus) and brown lemmings (Lemmus trimucronatus) on Bylot Island were dominated by Salix while mosses, which were significantly consumed only by the brown lemming, were a relatively minor food item. The most abundant plant taxon, Cassiope tetragona, which alone composes more than 50% of the available plant biomass, was not detected in feces and can thus be considered to be non-food. Most plant taxa that were identified as food items were consumed in proportion to their availability and none were clearly selected for. The resulting high diet overlap, together with a lack of habitat segregation, indicates a high potential for resource competition between the two lemming species. However, Salix is abundant in the winter habitats of lemmings on Bylot Island and the non-Salix portion of the diets differed between the two species. Also, lemming grazing impact on vegetation during winter in the study area is negligible. Hence, it seems likely that the high potential for resource competition predicted between these two species did not translate into actual competition. This illustrates that even in environments with low primary productivity food resources do not necessarily generate strong competition among herbivores.
Project description:The huge changes in population sizes of Arctic-nesting geese offer a great opportunity to study population limitation in migratory animals. In geese, population limitation seems to have shifted from wintering to summering grounds. There, in the Arctic, climate is rapidly changing, and this may impact reproductive performance, and perhaps population size of geese, both directly (e.g. by changes in snow melt) or indirectly (e.g. by changes in trophic interactions). Dark-bellied brent geese (Branta bernicla bernicla L.) increased 20-fold since the 1950s. Its reproduction fluctuates strongly in concert with the 3-year lemming cycle. An earlier analysis, covering the growth period until 1988, did not find evidence for density dependence, but thereafter the population levelled off and even decreased. The question is whether this is caused by changes in lemming cycles, population density or other factors like carry-over effects. Breeding success was derived from proportions of juveniles. We used an information-theoretical approach to investigate which environmental factors best explained the variation in breeding success over nearly 50 years (1960-2008). We subsequently combined GLM predictions of breeding success with published survival estimates to project the population trajectory since 1991 (year of maximum population size). In this way, we separated the effects of lemming abundance and population density on population development. Breeding success was mainly dependent on lemming abundance, the onset of spring at the breeding grounds, and the population size of brent goose. No evidence was found for carry-over effects (i.e. effects of conditions at main spring staging site). Negative density dependence was operating at a population size above c. 200 000 individuals, but the levelling off of the population could be explained by faltering lemming cycles alone. Lemmings have long been known to affect population productivity of Arctic-nesting migratory birds and, more recently, possibly population dynamics of resident bird species, but this is the first evidence for effects of lemming abundance on population size of a migratory bird species. Why lemming cycles are faltering in the last two decades is unclear, but this may be associated with changes in winter climate at Taimyr Peninsula (Siberia).
Project description:Many rodents, including most populations of arctic lemmings (genus Dicrostonyx and Lemmus), have cyclic population dynamics. Among the numerous hypotheses which have been proposed and tested to explain this typical characteristic of some terrestrial vertebrate communities, trophic interactions have often been presented as the most likely drivers of these periodic fluctuations. The possible role of parasites has, however, only seldom been assessed. In this study, we genetically measured the prevalence of two endoparasite taxa, eimerians and cestodes, in 372 faecal samples from collared lemmings, over a five year period and across three distant sites in Northeast Greenland. Prevalence of cestodes was low (2.7% over all sites and years) and this taxon was only found at one site (although in 4 out of 5 years) in adult hosts. By contrast, we found high prevalence for eimerians (77.7% over all sites and years), which occurred at all sites, in every year, for both age classes (at the Hochstetter Forland site where both adult and juvenile faeces were collected) and regardless of reproductive and social status inferred from the characteristics of the lemming nests where the samples had been collected. Prevalence of eimerians significantly varied among years (not among sites) and was higher for juvenile than for adult lemmings at the Hochstetter Forland site. However, higher prevalence of eimerians (P t ) was only associated with lower lemming density (N t ) at one of the three sites and we found no delayed density dependence between N t and P t+1 to support the parasite hypothesis. Our results show that there is no clear relation between lemming density and eimerian faecal prevalence in Northeast Greenland and hence no evidence that eimerians could be driving the cyclic population dynamics of collared lemmings in this region.
Project description:Climate change is occurring more rapidly in the Arctic than other places in the world, which is likely to alter the distribution and abundance of migratory birds breeding there. A warming climate can provide benefits to birds by decreasing spring snow cover, but increases in the frequency of summer rainstorms, another product of climate change, may reduce foraging opportunities for insectivorous birds. Cyclic lemming populations in the Arctic also influence bird abundance because Arctic foxes begin consuming bird eggs when lemmings decline. The complex interaction between summer temperature, precipitation, and the lemming cycle hinder our ability to predict how Arctic-breeding birds will respond to climate change. The main objective of this study was to investigate the relationship between annual variation in weather, spring snow cover, lemming abundance and spatiotemporal variation in the abundance of multiple avian guilds in a tundra ecosystem in central Nunavut, Canada: songbirds, shorebirds, gulls, loons, and geese. We spatially stratified our study area based on vegetation productivity, terrain ruggedness, and freshwater abundance, and conducted distance sampling to estimate strata-specific densities of each guild during the summers of 2010-2012. We also monitored temperature, rainfall, spring snow cover, and lemming abundance each year. Spatial variation in bird abundance matched what was expected based on previous ecological knowledge, but weather and lemming abundance also significantly influenced the abundance of some guilds. In particular, songbirds were less abundant during the cool, wet summer with moderate snow cover, and shorebirds and gulls declined with lemming abundance. The abundance of geese did not vary over time, possibly because benefits created by moderate spring snow cover were offset by increased fox predation when lemmings were scarce. Our study provides an example of a simple way to monitor the correlation between weather, spring snow cover, lemming abundance, and spatiotemporal variations in Arctic-breeding birds.
Project description:BACKGROUND: Global temperature increased by approximately half a degree (Celsius) within the last 150 years. Even this moderate warming had major impacts on Earth's ecological and biological systems, especially in the Arctic where the magnitude of abiotic changes even exceeds those in temperate and tropical biomes. Therefore, understanding the biological consequences of climate change on high latitudes is of critical importance for future conservation of the species living in this habitat. The past 25,000 years can be used as a model for such changes, as they were marked by prominent climatic changes that influenced geographical distribution, demographic history and pattern of genetic variation of many extant species. We sequenced ancient and modern DNA of the collared lemming (Dicrostonyx torquatus), which is a key species of the arctic biota, from a single site (Pymva Shor, Northern Pre Urals, Russia) to see if climate warming events after the Last Glacial Maximum had detectable effects on the genetic variation of this arctic rodent species, which is strongly associated with a cold and dry climate. RESULTS: Using three dimensional network reconstructions we found a dramatic decline in genetic diversity following the LGM. Model-based approaches such as Approximate Bayesian Computation and Markov Chain Monte Carlo based Bayesian inference show that there is evidence for a population decline in the collared lemming following the LGM, with the population size dropping to a minimum during the Greenland Interstadial 1 (Bølling/Allerød) warming phase at 14.5 kyrs BP. CONCLUSION: Our results show that previous climate warming events had a strong influence on genetic diversity and population size of collared lemmings. Due to its already severely compromised genetic diversity a similar population reduction as a result of the predicted future climate change could completely abolish the remaining genetic diversity in this population. Local population extinctions of collared lemmings would have severe effects on the arctic ecosystem, as collared lemmings are a key species in the trophic interactions and ecosystem processes in the Arctic.
Project description:In order to evaluate the biogeographical hypothesis that the Norwegian lemming (Lemmus lemmus) survived the last glacial period in some Scandinavian refugia, we examined variation in the nucleotide sequence of the mitochondrial control region (402 base pairs (bp)) and the cytochrome b (cyt b) region (633 bp) in Norwegian and Siberian (Lemmus sibiricus) lemmings. The phylogenetic distinction and cyt b divergence estimate of 1.8% between the Norwegian and Siberian lemmings suggest that their separation pre-dated the last glaciation and imply that the Norwegian lemming is probably a relic of the Pleistocene populations from Western Europe. The star-like control region phylogeny and low mitochondrial DNA diversity in the Norwegian lemming indicate a reduction in its historical effective size followed by population expansion. The average estimate of post-bottleneck time (19-21 kyr) is close to the last glacial maximum (18-22 kyr BP). Taking these findings and the fossil records into consideration, it seems likely that, after colonization of Scandinavia in the Late Pleistocene, the Norwegian lemming suffered a reduction in its population effective size and survived the last glacial maximum in some local Scandinavian refugia, as suggested by early biogeographical work.
Project description:Herbivore cycles are often synchronized over larger areas than what could be explained by dispersal. In Norway, the 3-4 year lemming cycle usually show no more than a one-year time lag between different regions, despite distances of up to 1000 km. If important food plants are forced to reallocate defensive proteins in years with high seed production, spatially synchronized herbivore outbreaks may be due to climate-synchronized peaks in flowering. Because lemming peaks are expected to occur one year after a flowering peak, and the formation of flower buds is induced in the year before flowering, a two-year time lag between flower-inducing climate events and lemming peaks is predicted. At Hardangervidda, South Norway, the probability that a year was a population peak year of lemming during 1920-2014 increased with increasing midsummer atmospheric pressure two years earlier, even when the number of years since the previous peak was accounted for.
Project description:Seasonal environmental conditions shape the behavior and life history of virtually all organisms. Climate change is modifying these seasonal environmental conditions, which threatens to disrupt population dynamics. It is conceivable that climatic changes may be beneficial in one season but result in detrimental conditions in another because life-history strategies vary between these time periods. We analyzed the temporal trends in seasonal survival of yellow-bellied marmots (<i>Marmota flaviventer</i>) and explored the environmental drivers using a 40-y dataset from the Colorado Rocky Mountains (USA). Trends in survival revealed divergent seasonal patterns, which were similar across age-classes. Marmot survival declined during winter but generally increased during summer. Interestingly, different environmental factors appeared to drive survival trends across age-classes. Winter survival was largely driven by conditions during the preceding summer and the effect of continued climate change was likely to be mainly negative, whereas the likely outcome of continued climate change on summer survival was generally positive. This study illustrates that seasonal demographic responses need disentangling to accurately forecast the impacts of climate change on animal population dynamics.
Project description:Coral reefs are under increasing pressure in a changing climate, one such threat being more frequent and destructive outbreaks of coral diseases. Thermal stress from rising temperatures has been implicated as a causal factor in disease outbreaks observed on the Great Barrier Reef, Australia, and elsewhere in the world. Here, we examine seasonal effects of satellite-derived temperature on the abundance of coral diseases known as white syndromes on the Great Barrier Reef, considering both warm stress during summer and deviations from mean temperatures during the preceding winter. We found a high correlation (r(2) = 0.953) between summer warm thermal anomalies (Hot Snap) and disease abundance during outbreak events. Inclusion of thermal conditions during the preceding winter revealed that a significant reduction in disease outbreaks occurred following especially cold winters (Cold Snap), potentially related to a reduction in pathogen loading. Furthermore, mild winters (i.e., neither excessively cool nor warm) frequently preceded disease outbreaks. In contrast, disease outbreaks did not typically occur following warm winters, potentially because of increased disease resistance of the coral host. Understanding the balance between the effects of warm and cold winters on disease outbreak will be important in a warming climate. Combining the influence of winter and summer thermal effects resulted in an algorithm that yields both a Seasonal Outlook of disease risk at the conclusion of winter and near real-time monitoring of Outbreak Risk during summer. This satellite-derived system can provide coral reef managers with an assessment of risk three-to-six months in advance of the summer season that can then be refined using near-real-time summer observations. This system can enhance the capacity of managers to prepare for and respond to possible disease outbreaks and focus research efforts to increase understanding of environmental impacts on coral disease in this era of rapidly changing climate.