Patterns in grouse and Woodcock Scolopax rusticola hunting yields from central Norway 1901–24 do not support the alternative prey hypothesis for grouse cycles
Abstract:According to the alternative prey hypothesis, autumn populations of ground-nesting game birds fluctuate in synchrony with vole numbers because generalist predators that mainly eat voles switch to alternative prey, such as eggs and chicks, when vole numbers decline. In hunting statistics from Nord-Trøndelag, central Norway, 1901–24, annual fluctuations in the number of Willow Grouse Lagopus lagopus and Western Capercaillie Tetrao urogallus, but not of Woodcock Scolopax rusticola, were positively related to vole numbers in the current year. Both Woodcock and grouse indices were related to hunting indices of Goshawk Accipiter gentilis and to weather variables assumed to influence the birds’ survival or reproduction, suggesting that the indices actually reflected local population levels. Synchronous vole and grouse fluctuations are consistent with the alternative prey hypothesis (although predator densities were low in the early 1900s), but the asynchronous Woodcock fluctuations refute the hypothesis. Rather, because the Woodcock does not feed on plants utilized by voles and grouse, I suggest that food quality is the ultimate factor for the synchrony in vole and grouse numbers in Norway.
Document Type: Research Article
Publication date: October 1, 2006