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Synchrony in the snowshoe hare (Lepus americanus) cycle in northwestern North America, 1970–2012

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Snowshoe hares (Lepus americanus Erxleben, 1777) fluctuate in 9–10 year cycles throughout much of their North American range. Regional synchrony has been assumed to be the rule for these cycles, so that hare populations in virtually all of northwestern North America have been assumed to be in phase. We gathered qualitative and quantitative data on hare numbers and fur returns of Canada lynx (Lynx canadensis Kerr, 1792) in the boreal forest regions of Alaska, Yukon, Northwest Territories, and northern British Columbia to describe synchrony in the time window of 1970–2012. Broad-scale synchrony in lynx fur returns was strong from 1970 to about 1995 but then seemed to break down in different parts of this region. Hare populations at 20 sites in Alaska, the Yukon, and Northwest Territories showed peak populations that lagged by 1–4 years during the 1990s and 2000s cycles. The simplest hypothesis to explain these patterns of asynchrony in hare cycles is the movement of predators from British Columbia north into the Yukon and then east into the Northwest Territories and west into Alaska. A traveling wave of these cycles is clearly seen in the lynx fur returns from western Canada and Alaska from 1970 to 2009. One consequence of a failure of synchrony is that hare predators like Canada lynx and Great-horned Owls (Bubo virginianus (Gmelin, 1788)) can move from one adjacent area to the next within this region and survive long enough to prolong low densities in hare populations that have declined earlier.

Keywords: 10 year cycle; Alaska; British Columbia; Colombie-Britannique; Lepus americanus; Northwest Territories; Territoires-du-Nord-Ouest; Yukon; boreal forest; climat; climate; cycle décennal; forêt boréale; ondes progressives; predation; prédation; traveling waves

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: 1: Department of Zoology, University of British Columbia, 6270 University Boulevard, Vancouver, BC V6T 1Z4, Canada. 2: Department of Biology and Wildlife, Institute of Arctic Biology, University of Alaska, Fairbanks, AK 99775, USA. 3: Yukon Fish and Wildlife Branch, P.O. Box 310, Mayo, YT Y0B 1M0, Canada. 4: Wildlife Dynamics Consulting, P.O. Box 3596, Smithers, BC V0J 2N0, Canada. 5: US National Park Service, Denali National Park and Reserve, 4175 Geist Road, Fairbanks, AK 99709, USA. 6: US National Park Service, Gates of the Arctic National Park, 4175 Geist Road, Fairbanks, AK 99709, USA. 7: US Fish and Wildlife Service, Tetlin National Wildlife Refuge, Tok, AK 99780, USA. 8: Environment and Natural Resources, Government of Northwest Territories, P.O. Box 1320, Yellowknife, NWT X1A 2L9, Canada. 9: Department of Biological Sciences, University of Toronto Scarborough, 1265 Military Trail, Toronto, ON M1C 1A4, Canada. 10: Department of Biological Sciences, University of Alberta, Edmonton, AB T6G 2E9, Canada. 11: Wildlife Conservation Society Canada, P.O. Box 31127, Whitehorse, YT Y1A 5P7, Canada. 12: US Fish and Wildlife Service, Koyukuk/Nowitna National Wildlife Refuge, P.O. Box 287, Galena, AK 99741, USA. 13: US National Park Service, Wrangell–St. Elias National Park and Preserve, P.O. Box 439, Copper Center, AK 99573, USA. 14: US Fish and Wildlife Service, Kenai National Wildlife Refuge, P.O. Box 2139, Soldotna, AK 99669, USA.

Publication date: 2013-07-26

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