Synchrony in the snowshoe hare (Lepus americanus) cycle in northwestern North America, 1970–2012

Charles Krebs, Knut Kielland, John Bryant, Mark O'Donoghue, Frank Doyle, Carol McIntyre, Donna DiFolco, Nathan Berg, Suzanne Carriere, Rudy Boonstra, Stan Boutin, Alice Kenney, Donald Reid, Karin Bodony, Judy Putera, Henry Timm, Toby Burke

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

34 Citations (Scopus)


Snowshoe hares (Lepus americanus Erxleben, 1777) fluctuate in 9–10 year cycles throughout much of their North American range. Regional synchrony has been assumed to be the rule for these cycles, so that hare populations in virtually all of northwestern North America have been assumed to be in phase. We gathered qualitative and quantitative data on hare numbers and fur returns of Canada lynx (Lynx canadensis Kerr, 1792) in the boreal forest regions of Alaska, Yukon, Northwest Territories, and northern British Columbia to describe synchrony in the time window of 1970–2012. Broad-scale synchrony in lynx fur returns was strong from 1970 to about 1995 but then seemed to break down in different parts of this region. Hare populations at 20 sites in Alaska, the Yukon, and Northwest Territories showed peak populations that lagged by 1–4 years during the 1990s and 2000s cycles. The simplest hypothesis to explain these patterns of asynchrony in hare cycles is the movement of predators from British Columbia north into the Yukon and then east into the Northwest Territories and west into Alaska. A traveling wave of these cycles is clearly seen in the lynx fur returns from western Canada and Alaska from 1970 to 2009. One consequence of a failure of synchrony is that hare predators like Canada lynx and Great-horned Owls (Bubo virginianus (Gmelin, 1788)) can move from one adjacent area to the next within this region and survive long enough to prolong low densities in hare populations that have declined earlier.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)562-572
Number of pages11
JournalCanadian Journal of Zoology
Publication statusPublished - 2013
Externally publishedYes


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