From individuals to population cycles: the role of extrinsic and intrinsic factors in rodent populations
Rodent population cycles have fascinated scientists for a long time. Among various hypotheses, an interaction of an extrinsic factor (predation) with intrinsic factors (e.g., sociality and dispersal) was suggested to lead to the generation of population cycles. Here, we tested this hypothesis with an individual-based model fully parameterized with an exceptionally rich empirical database on vole life histories. We employed a full factorial design that included models with the following factors: predation only, predation and sociality, predation and dispersal, and predation and both sociality and dispersal. A comprehensive set of metrics was used to compare results of these four models with the long-term population dynamics of natural vole populations. Only the full model, which included both intrinsic factors and predation, yielded cycle periods, amplitudes, and autumn population sizes closest to those observed in nature. Our approach allows to model, as emergent properties of individual life histories, the sort of nonlinear density- and phase-dependence that is expected to destabilize population dynamics. We suggest that the individual-based approach is useful for addressing the effects of other mechanisms on rodent populations that operate at finer temporal and spatial scales than have been explored with models so far.
Source: doi: 10.1890/15-0756.1