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01.01.2014 | Original article | Ausgabe 1/2014 Open Access

Population Ecology 1/2014

Experimental evidence that livestock grazing intensity affects cyclic vole population regulation processes

Population Ecology > Ausgabe 1/2014
Nacho Villar, Thomas Cornulier, Darren Evans, Robin Pakeman, Steve Redpath, Xavier Lambin
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The online version of this article (doi:10.​1007/​s10144-013-0398-x) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.


Grazing by domestic ungulates may limit the densities of small herbivorous mammals that act as key prey in ecosystems. Whether this also influences density dependence and the regulation of small herbivore populations, hence their propensity to exhibit multi-annual population cycles, is unknown. Here, we combine time series analysis with a large-scale grazing experiment on upland grasslands to examine the effects of livestock grazing intensity on the population dynamics of field voles (Microtus agrestis). Using log-linear modelling of replicated time series under different grazing treatments, we show that increased sheep densities weaken delayed density dependent regulation of vole population growth, hence reducing the cyclicity in vole population dynamics. While population regulation is commonly attributed to both top-down and bottom up processes, our results suggest that regulation of cyclic vole populations can be disrupted by the influence of another grazer in the same trophic level. These results support the view that ongoing changes in domestic grazing intensity, by affecting small mammal dynamics, can potentially have cascading impacts on higher trophic levels, and strongly influence the dynamics of upland grassland systems.

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