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Diet variation of common buzzards in Finland supports the alternative prey hypothesis

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The regional synchrony of short-term population fluctuations of small rodents and small game has usually been explained by varying impacts of generalist predators subsisting on both voles and small game (the “alternative prey hypothesis” APH). APH says that densities of predators increase as a response to increasing vole densities and then these predators shift their diet from the main prey to the alternative prey when the main prey decline and vice versa. We studied the diet composition of breeding common buzzards Buteo buteo during 1985–92 in western Finland. Microtus voles were the main prey and water voles, shrews, forest grouse, hares and small birds the most important alternative prey. Our data from the between-year variation in the diet composition of buzzards fulfilled the main predictions of APH. The yearly proportion of main prey (Microtus voles) in the diet was higher in years of high than low vole abundance. The proportion of grouse in the diet of buzzards was negatively related to the abundance of Microtus voles in the field and was nearly independent of grouse abundance in the field. In addition, buzzards mainly took grouse chicks and young hares which is consistent with the prediction of APH. Therefore, we conclude that buzzards are able to shift their diet in the way predicted by the APH and that buzzards, together with other generalist predators, may reduce the breeding success of small game in the decline phase of the vole cycle, and thus substantially contribute to the existence of short-term population cycles of small game.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: June 1, 2001

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