David Bourget (Western Ontario)
David Chalmers (ANU, NYU)
Rafael De Clercq
Jack Alan Reynolds
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Acta Biotheoretica 55 (3):227-241 (2007)
Many predator species feed on prey that fluctuates in abundance from year to year. Birds of prey can face large fluctuations in food abundance i.e. small mammals, especially voles. These annual changes in prey abundance strongly affect the reproductive success and mortality of the individual predators and thus can be expected to influence their population dynamics and persistence. The barn owl, for example, shows large fluctuations in breeding success that correlate with the dynamics in voles, their main prey species. Analysis of the impact of fluctuations in vole abundance with a simple predator prey model parameterized with literature data indicates population persistence is especially affected by years with low vole abundance. In these years the population can decline to low owl numbers such that the ensuing peak vole years cannot be exploited. This result is independent of the length and regularity of vole fluctuations. The relevance of this result for conservation of the barn owl and other birds of prey that show a numerical response to fluctuating prey species is discussed.
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