Population dynamics of large and small mammals


  • John Erb,

  • Mark S. Boyce,

  • Nils Chr. Stenseth

John Erb, Dept of Zoology and Physiology, Univ. of Wyoming, Laramie, WY 82071-3166, USA (current address: Minnesota Dept of Natural Resources, Farmland Wildlife Populations and Research Group, RR1 Box 181, Madelia, MN 56062, USA [john.erb@dnr.state.mn.us]). – Mark S. Boyce, Dept of Biological Sciences, Univ. of Alberta, Edmonton, AB, Canada, T6G 2E9. – N. C. Stenseth, Div. of Zoology, Dept of Biology, Univ. of Oslo, P.O. Box 1050, Blindern, N-0316 Oslo, Norway.


We offer an evaluation of the Caughley and Krebs hypothesis that small mammals are more likely than large mammals to possess intrinsic population regulating mechanisms. Based on the assumption that intrinsic regulation will be manifest via direct density-dependent feedbacks, and extrinsic regulation via delayed density-dependent feedbacks, we fit autoregressive models to 30 time series of abundance for large and small mammals to characterize their dynamics. Delayed feedbacks characterizing extrinsic mechanisms, such as trophic-level interactions, were detected in most time series, including both small and large mammals. Spectral analyses indicated that the effect of such delayed feedbacks on the variability in population growth rates differed with body size, with large mammals exhibiting predominantly reddened and whitened spectra in contrast with predominantly blue spectra for small mammals. Large mammals showed less variance and more stable dynamics than small mammals, consistent with, among other factors, differences in their potential population growth rates. Patterns of population dynamics in small versus large mammals contradicted those predicted by the Caughley and Krebs hypothesis.