Are lemming winter nest counts a good index of population density?

Charles KREBS, Frederic Bilodeau, Donald Reid, Gilles Gauthier, Alice Kenney, Scott Gilbert, David Duchesne, Deborah Wilson

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13 Citations (Scopus)


Lemmings construct nests of grass and moss under the snow during winter, and counting these nests in spring is 1 method of obtaining an index of winter density and habitat use. We counted winter nests after snow melt on fixed grids on 5 areas scattered across the Canadian Arctic and compared these nest counts to population density estimated by markâ¿¿recapture on the same areas in spring and during the previous autumn. Collared lemmings were a common species in most areas, some sites had an abundance of brown lemmings, and only 2 sites had tundra voles. Winter nest counts were correlated with lemming densities estimated in the following spring (rs =0.80, P <0.001), but less well correlated with densities the previous autumn (rs = 0.55, P<0.001). Winter nest counts can be used to predict spring lemming densities with a log-log regression that explains 64% of the observed variation. Winter nest counts are best treated as an approximate index and should not be used when precise, quantitative lemming density estimates are required. Nest counts also can be used to provide general information about habitat-use in winter, predation rates by weasels, and the extent of winter breeding.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)87-92
Number of pages6
JournalJournal of Mammalogy
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2012
Externally publishedYes


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