Scientists Close In on Explaining Confounding Predator-Prey Cycle (UF/IFAS Blogs)

Scientists Close In on Explaining Confounding Predator-Prey Cycle

Scientists have long known that snowshoe hare populations follow a 10-year boom and bust cycle. But what drives this cycle has fascinated ecologists for more than a century.

In a new study, scientists from the University of Florida and other institutions in the United States and Canada analyzed four decades of field data to reveal the mechanics driving these fluctuations.

“These 10-year cycles produce some of the foundational questions of animal ecology,” said Madan Oli, professor of wildlife ecology at UF/IFAS and the study’s lead author.

“For this study, we wanted to know: what’s happening within the hare population that’s driving that pattern?” Oli said. “We found that two factors drive the whole thing: how well the hares survive during the winter and how much they reproduce during the summer. Population crashes were triggered by low winter survival followed by poor summer reproduction. On the other hand, surges in population were triggered by increases in summer reproduction followed by higher winter survival.”

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