One of the most long-enduring and fascinating phenomena of terrestrial ecology is the origin and explanation of synchronous population cycles in herbivores and some of their predators. Often, these cycles are synchronized over large areas, sometimes reaching over 1500 km in their effective range. Charles Elton, one of the founders of the modern science of ecology, was one of the first workers to realize the importance of extreme population fluctuations in snowshoe hares and Canadian lynx and lemmings, early in the twentieth century. Since Elton, researchers have found similar cycles or regular fluctuations in such
*This work is greatly influenced by Turchin P (2003) Complex Population Dynamics: A Theoretical/Empirical Synthesis. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
herbivores as lepidopterans, voles, mice, grouse, and geese. The cycles of these fluctuations vary with the particular taxon under study and the mechanisms underlying the fluctuations are not uniform (see Table 1). So far, ecologists cannot conclusively prove the origin and maintenance of many cycles, but progress has been made in identifying the individual mechanisms responsible for both the increases and decreases in population densities.
Was this article helpful?