Spatial structure of lemming populations (Dicrostonyx groenlandicus) fluctuating in density


N. C. Stenseth. Fax: + 47 22 85 46 05; E-mail:


The pattern and scale of the genetic structure of populations provides valuable information for the understanding of the spatial ecology of populations, including the spatial aspects of density fluctuations. In the present paper, the genetic structure of periodically fluctuating lemmings (Dicrostonyx groenlandicus) in the Canadian Arctic was analysed using mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) control region sequences and four nuclear microsatellite loci. Low genetic variability was found in mtDNA, while microsatellite loci were highly variable in all localities, including localities on isolated small islands. For both genetic markers the genetic differentiation was clear among geographical regions but weaker among localities within regions. Such a pattern implies gene flow within regions. Based on theoretical calculations and population census data from a snap-trapping survey, we argue that the observed genetic variability on small islands and the low level of differentiation among these islands cannot be explained without invoking long distance dispersal of lemmings over the sea ice. Such dispersal is unlikely to occur only during population density peaks.