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Dynamic impacts of feral mink predation on vole metapopulations in the outer archipelago of the Baltic Sea

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Predation impacts by introduced predators are predicted to be most intense in island ecosystems, and also variable depending on environmental conditions, but large-scale experimental field testing is rare. In this study we examine the factors that determine the distribution and abundance of vole metapopulations preyed upon by feral American mink Mustela vison in the outer Finnish archipelago of the Baltic Sea. Specifically, we follow the dynamics of field voles Microtus agrestis and bank voles Clethrionomys glareolus on 40 small islands under variable rainfall as part of a large-scale mink removal experiment. For both vole species occupancy rates were negatively influenced by island isolation, as were extinction events for field voles. High summer rainfall in 1998 corresponded to large vole populations where mink were absent, populations that then crashed in 1999 and 2000 when below average rains fell during the summer breeding season. Where mink were present however, vole abundance remained more constant between years with no boom-bust apparent. We conclude that weather and predation may drive vole abundance whereas habitat patchiness and metapopulation processes more strongly drive vole distributions. There may also be potential for interaction between these factors: because feral mink prevent rapid vole population growth after good summer rains, and vole dispersal is influenced by population size, feral mink may be changing vole dispersal patterns to disrupt the natural metapopulation dynamic. Hence this indirect impact of mink could lead to gradual erosion of vole populations in the outer archipelago by reducing recolonisation processes.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 01 April 2004

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