Delayed density-dependent season length alone can lead to rodent population cycles

Matthew J. Smith, Andrew White, Xavier Lambin, Jonathan A. Sherratt, Michael Begon

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

44 Citations (Scopus)


Studies of cyclic microtine populations (voles and lemmings) have suggested a relationship between the previous year's population density and the subsequent timing of the onset of reproduction by overwintered breeding females. No studies have explored the importance of this relationship in the generation of population cycles. Here we mathematically examine the implications of variation in reproductive season length caused by delayed density-dependent changes in its start date. We demonstrate that when reproductive season length is a function of past population densities, it is possible to get realistic population cycles without invoking any changes in birth rates or survival. When parameterized for field voles (Microtus agrestis) in Kielder Forest (northern England), our most realistic model predicts population cycles of similar periodicity to the Kielder populations. Our study highlights the potential importance of density-dependent reproductive timing in microtine population cycles and calls for investigations into the mechanism(s) underlying this phenomenon. © 2006 by The University of Chicago.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)695-704
Number of pages10
JournalAmerican Naturalist
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - May 2006


  • Delayed density dependence
  • Life history
  • Microtus agrestis
  • Population dynamics
  • Season length
  • Seasonality


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