The effects of habitat manipulation on population distribution and foraging behavior in meadow voles


  • Jyrki Pusenius,

  • Kenneth A. Schmidt

J. Pusenius and K. A. Schmidt, Inst. of Ecosystem Studies, Box AB, Millbrook, 12545 NY, USA (present address of JP, Dept of Biology, Joensuu Univ., P.O. Box 111, FIN-80101 Joensuu, Finland []) (present address of KAS, Dept of Biology, Williams College, Williamstown, 01267 Massachusetts, USA).


Individuals, free to choose between different habitat patches, should settle among them such that fitness is equalized. Alternatives to this ideal free distribution result into fitness differences among the patches. The concordance between fitnesses and foraging costs among inhabitants of different quality patches, demonstrated in recent studies, suggests that the mode of habitat selection and the resulting fitness patterns may have important implications to the resource use of a forager and to the survival of its prey. We studied how coarse scale selection between habitat patches of different quality and quitting harvest rate in these patches are related to each other and to fine scale patch use in meadow voles (Microtus pennsylvanicus). To demonstrate these relationships, we manipulated habitat patches within large field enclosures by mowing vegetative cover and adding supplemental food according to a 2×2 factorial design. We tracked vole population densities, collected giving-up densities (GUDs, a measure of patch quitting harvest rate), and monitored the removal of seeds from lattice grids with 1.5 m intervals (an index of fine-scale space use) in the manipulated habitat patches. Changes in habitat quality induced changes in habitat use at different spatial scales. In preferred habitats with intact cover, voles were despotic and GUDs were low, but increased with the addition of food. In contrast, voles in less-preferred mowed habitats settled into an ideal free distribution, GUDs were high and uninfluenced by the addition of food. Seed removal was enhanced by the presence of cover but inhibited by supplemental food. Across all treatments, vole densities and GUDs were strongly correlated making it impossible to separate their effects on seed removal rates. However, this relationship broke down in unmowed habitats, where GUDs rather than vole density primarily influenced seed removal by voles. GUDs and seed removal correlated with predation on tree seedlings formerly planted into the enclosures, demonstrating the mechanisms between coarse-scale habitat manipulations and community level consequences on a forager's prey.