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Population Fluctuations in Rodents

How did rodent outbreaks in Germany help to end World War I? What caused the destructive outbreak of rodents in Oregon and California in the late 1950s, the large population outbreak of lemmings in Scandinavia in 2010, and the great abundance of field mice in Scotland in the spring of 2011? Population fluctuations, or outbreaks, of rodents constitute one of the classic problems of animal ecology, and in Population Fluctuations in Rodents, Charles J. Krebs sifts through the last eighty years of research to draw out exactly what we know about rodent outbreaks and what should be the agenda for future research.
Krebs has synthesized the research in this area, focusing mainly on the voles and lemmings of the Northern Hemisphere—his primary area of expertise—but also referring to the literature on rats and mice. He covers the patterns of changes in reproduction and mortality and the mechanisms that cause these changes—including predation, disease, food shortage, and social behavior—and discusses how landscapes can affect population changes, methodically presenting the hypotheses related to each topic before determining whether or not the data supports them. He ends on an expansive note, by turning his gaze outward and discussing how the research on rodent populations can apply to other terrestrial mammals. Geared toward advanced undergraduate students, graduate students, and practicing ecologists interested in rodent population studies, this book will also appeal to researchers seeking to manage rodent populations and to understand outbreaks in both natural and urban settings—or, conversely, to protect endangered species.

320 pages | 77 halftones, 62 line drawings, 20 tables | 6 x 9 | © 2013

Biological Sciences: Behavioral Biology, Biology--Systematics, Ecology


“[T]his book is an essential acquisition for ecologists interested in studies on or pursuing research in rodent population ecology. Highly recommended.”

R. S. Smith, West Virginia University | Choice

Population Fluctuations in Rodents provides a coherent and systematic approach to the myriad theories and hypotheses concerning the regulating variables of rodent population fluctuations. The book will be required reading for anyone working in this field and will prove particularly beneficial for graduate students entering the realm of small mammal ecology research. . . . With this synthesis work, Krebs has done the scientific community in the field of rodent population fluctuations a great service.”

Robert R. Parmenter, US Department of Agriculture | BioScience

“A fascinating and enlightening summary by one of the key players in the field. Population Fluctuations in Rodents offers a rich way forward.”

Nils Chr. Stenseth, Centre for Ecological and Evolutionary Synthesis, University of Oslo

“Cyclic fluctuation in abundance of many rodent populations is a fascinating ecological phenomenon. Despite decades of research resulting in thousands of publications, causes of rodent population cycles largely remain unknown. This volume thoroughly reviews hypotheses proposed to explain rodent population cycles, critically evaluates empirical evidence for or against each hypothesis, and proposes critical studies that could potentially resolve this ecological enigma. This is an outstanding piece of work by one of the best ecologists in the world.”

Madan Oli, University of Florida

“Population ecology is difficult—the experimental practice, not the theory. And a master practitioner is Charles J. Krebs. He has written a comprehensive, incisive book that examines what we know of both the pattern and the underlying processes of rodent population fluctuations. We have made significant progress in understanding these fluctuations over the last sixty years, in no small measure because of the prodigious research by Krebs, but also because of his penetrating, critical insight into evidence. However, this is not a book that trumpets his own contribution, but rather a balanced overview of the collective endeavor of large numbers of scientists worldwide. The book speaks to the entire audience that seeks to understand the distribution and abundance of species. Krebs critically dissects all hypotheses and evidence, concluding that multifactor explanations are most tenable. His advice: seek generality, but accept reality based on explicit mechanistic hypotheses and rigorous attempts to refute them.”

Rudy Boonstra, University of Toronto Scarborough

“Charles J. Krebs has been a major force in the study of mammalian population dynamics since about 1964. With characteristic boldness and zeal, he synthesizes much of the massive literature on this topic with emphasis on voles and lemmings. Not only does he make an effort to give a balanced treatment of this complex and often contentious topic, but readers will also appreciate his attention to historical context, conceptual issues, and research protocols. Two of his overall conclusions encapsulate the essence of this important contribution: (1) Our striving for generality ‘must be tempered by reality.’ and (2) ‘Ecologists can ignore [rodents], but only at their peril.’”

William Z. Lidicker Jr., University of California, Berkeley

Table of Contents


Chapter 1 Classifying Rodent Population Changes
Chapter 2 Biogeography of Rodent Population Fluctuations
Chapter 3 Reproductive Rates in Fluctuating Populations
Chapter 4 Mortality Rates in Fluctuating Populations
Chapter 5 Immigration and Emigration
Chapter 6 Spatial Dynamics of Populations
Chapter 7 How Can We Determine What Drives Population Changes?
Chapter 8 The Food Hypothesis
Chapter 9 Predation as the Explanation for Fluctuations
Chapter 10 Disease as a Potential Factor in Population Changes
Chapter 11 Self-Regulation Hypotheses for Fluctuations
Chapter 12 Multifactor Explanations of Fluctuations
Chapter 13 Models for Fluctuating Rodent Populations
Chapter 14 Key Studies Yet to Be Done
Chapter 15 Synthesis of Rodent Population Dynamics
Chapter 16 Comparative Dynamics of Rodents and Other Mammals


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