Lemming winter habitat choice: a snow-fencing experiment

Donald Reid, Frederic Bilodeau, Charles KREBS, Gilles Gauthier, Alice Kenney, Scott Gilbert, Maria Leung, David Duchesne, Elizabeth Hofer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

27 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

The insulative value of early and deep winter snow is thought to enhance winter reproduction and survival by arctic lemmings (Lemmus and Dicrostonyx spp). This leads to the general hypothesis that landscapes with persistently low lemming population densities, or low amplitude population fluctuations, have a low proportion of the land base with deep snow. We experimentally tested a component of this hypothesis, that snow depth influences habitat choice, at three Canadian Arctic sites: Bylot Island, Nunavut; Herschel Island, Yukon; Komakuk Beach, Yukon. We used snow fencing to enhance snow depth on 9-ha tundra habitats, and measured the intensity of winter use of these and control areas by counting rodent winter nests in spring. At all three sites, the density of winter nests increased in treated areas compared to control areas after the treatment, and remained higher on treated areas during the treatment. The treatment was relaxed at one site, and winter nest density returned to pre-treatment levels. The rodents' proportional use of treated areas compared to adjacent control areas increased and remained higher during the treatment. At two of three sites, lemmings and voles showed significant attraction to the areas of deepest snow accumulation closest to the fences. The strength of the treatment effect appeared to depend on how quickly the ground level temperature regime became stable in autumn, coincident with snow depths near the hiemal threshold. Our results provide strong support for the hypothesis that snow depth is a primary determinant of winter habitat choice by tundra lemmings and voles.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)935-946
Number of pages12
JournalOecologia
Volume168
Issue number4
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2012
Externally publishedYes

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snow
winter
habitat
habitats
experiment
nest
Yukon Territory
tundra
nests
rodent
Arctic region
rodents
Lemmus
Nunavut
snow accumulation
fences
population density
beach
beaches
autumn

Cite this

Reid, D., Bilodeau, F., KREBS, C., Gauthier, G., Kenney, A., Gilbert, S., ... Hofer, E. (2012). Lemming winter habitat choice: a snow-fencing experiment. Oecologia, 168(4), 935-946. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00442-011-2167-x
Reid, Donald ; Bilodeau, Frederic ; KREBS, Charles ; Gauthier, Gilles ; Kenney, Alice ; Gilbert, Scott ; Leung, Maria ; Duchesne, David ; Hofer, Elizabeth. / Lemming winter habitat choice: a snow-fencing experiment. In: Oecologia. 2012 ; Vol. 168, No. 4. pp. 935-946.
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Reid, D, Bilodeau, F, KREBS, C, Gauthier, G, Kenney, A, Gilbert, S, Leung, M, Duchesne, D & Hofer, E 2012, 'Lemming winter habitat choice: a snow-fencing experiment', Oecologia, vol. 168, no. 4, pp. 935-946. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00442-011-2167-x

Lemming winter habitat choice: a snow-fencing experiment. / Reid, Donald; Bilodeau, Frederic; KREBS, Charles; Gauthier, Gilles; Kenney, Alice; Gilbert, Scott; Leung, Maria; Duchesne, David; Hofer, Elizabeth.

In: Oecologia, Vol. 168, No. 4, 2012, p. 935-946.

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

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T1 - Lemming winter habitat choice: a snow-fencing experiment

AU - Reid, Donald

AU - Bilodeau, Frederic

AU - KREBS, Charles

AU - Gauthier, Gilles

AU - Kenney, Alice

AU - Gilbert, Scott

AU - Leung, Maria

AU - Duchesne, David

AU - Hofer, Elizabeth

PY - 2012

Y1 - 2012

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AB - The insulative value of early and deep winter snow is thought to enhance winter reproduction and survival by arctic lemmings (Lemmus and Dicrostonyx spp). This leads to the general hypothesis that landscapes with persistently low lemming population densities, or low amplitude population fluctuations, have a low proportion of the land base with deep snow. We experimentally tested a component of this hypothesis, that snow depth influences habitat choice, at three Canadian Arctic sites: Bylot Island, Nunavut; Herschel Island, Yukon; Komakuk Beach, Yukon. We used snow fencing to enhance snow depth on 9-ha tundra habitats, and measured the intensity of winter use of these and control areas by counting rodent winter nests in spring. At all three sites, the density of winter nests increased in treated areas compared to control areas after the treatment, and remained higher on treated areas during the treatment. The treatment was relaxed at one site, and winter nest density returned to pre-treatment levels. The rodents' proportional use of treated areas compared to adjacent control areas increased and remained higher during the treatment. At two of three sites, lemmings and voles showed significant attraction to the areas of deepest snow accumulation closest to the fences. The strength of the treatment effect appeared to depend on how quickly the ground level temperature regime became stable in autumn, coincident with snow depths near the hiemal threshold. Our results provide strong support for the hypothesis that snow depth is a primary determinant of winter habitat choice by tundra lemmings and voles.

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KW - Rodents

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M3 - Article

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SP - 935

EP - 946

JO - Oecologia

JF - Oecologia

SN - 0029-8549

IS - 4

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Reid D, Bilodeau F, KREBS C, Gauthier G, Kenney A, Gilbert S et al. Lemming winter habitat choice: a snow-fencing experiment. Oecologia. 2012;168(4):935-946. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00442-011-2167-x