Influence of predation risk on recruitment and litter intervals in common voles (Microtus arvalis)

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Research on mammals and birds has shown that predation may have indirect effects on prey reproduction. Some of the indirect effects may give prey an adaptive advantage. Females of several vole species respond to the presence of predators from the genus Mustela L., 1758 with suppressed breeding; this response increases females’ chances of survival. However, breeding suppression is observed only in a certain part of the female population; it is unclear whether predation risk affects the remaining females. We investigated this in a capture–mark–recapture experiment on reproductive effort of female common voles (Microtus arvalis (Pallas, 1778)) facing simulated presence of mustelid predators. We measured two parameters: the number of recruits per litter and the litter interval. Compared with control populations, the number of recruits per litter was not affected, but the litter interval was longer in females facing mustelid risk of predation. This indicates that predation risk affects females in a more complex way than originally proposed: it induces breeding suppression in some, but also influences litter frequency in others. Our result suggests that predatory stress deregulates the estrous cycle. Decreased frequency of litters can be a viable antipredatory adaptation in iteroparous organisms.

Keywords: adaptation; ferret; frequency; fréquence; furet; gestation; grossesse; pregnancy; reproduction; stress

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: January 1, 2013

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  • Published since 1929, this monthly journal reports on primary research contributed by respected international scientists in the broad field of zoology, including behaviour, biochemistry and physiology, developmental biology, ecology, genetics, morphology and ultrastructure, parasitology and pathology, and systematics and evolution. It also invites experts to submit review articles on topics of current interest.
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