Determining the factors driving cyclic dynamics in species has been a primary focus of ecology. For snowshoe hares (Lepus americanus), explanations of their 10-year population cycles most commonly feature direct predation during the peak and decline, in combination with their curtailment in reproduction. Hares are thought to stop producing third and fourth litters during the cyclic decline and do not recover reproductive output for several years. The demographic effects of these reproductive changes depend on the consistency of this pattern across cycles, and the relative contribution to population change of late-litter versus early litter juveniles. We used monitoring data on snowshoe hares in Yukon, Canada, to examine the contribution of late-litter juveniles to the demography of their cycles, by assigning litter group for individuals caught in autumn based on body size and capture date. We found that fourth-litter juveniles occur consistently during the increase phase of each cycle, but are rare and have low over-winter survival (0.05) suggesting that population increase is unlikely to be caused by their occurrence. The proportion of third-litter juveniles captured in the autumn remains relatively constant across cycle phases, while over-winter survival rates varies particularly for earlier-litter juveniles (0.14–0.39). Juvenile survival from all litters is higher during the population increase and peak, relative to the low and decline. Overall, these results suggest that the transition from low phase to population growth may stem in large part from changes in juvenile survival as opposed to increased reproductive output through the presence of a 4th litter.
|Number of pages||9|
|Publication status||Published - Apr 2021|