An Empirically Based Model for Latitudinal Gradient in Vole Population Dynamics
Vole dynamics in northern Europe exhibit a well‐defined geographical gradient, with oscillatory populations being confined to high latitudes. It has been proposed that oscillations in northern vole populations are driven by their interaction with specialist predators (weasels), while the more southern rodent populations are relatively stable because of regulation by generalist predators. We tested this generalist/specialist predation hypothesis by constructing an empirically based model for vole population dynamics, estimating its parameters, and makng predictions about the quantitative pattern of the latitudinal shift in vole dynamics. Our results indicated that the model accurately predicted the latitudinal shift in the amplitude and periodicity of population fluctuations. Moreover, the model predicted that vole dynamics should shift from stable to chaotic as latitude is increased, a result in agreement with nonlinear time‐series analysis of the data. The striking success of the model at predicting the shifts in amplitude and stability along the geographical gradient in northern Europe provides strong support for the key role of specialist and generalist predators in vole population dynamics.