UBC Faculty Research and Publications

Population Fluctuations of the Deer Mouse (Peromyscus maniculatus) in Old-Field and Bunchgrass–Sagebrush Habitats : The Role of Agricultural Setting and Optimum Habitat Sullivan, Thomas P.; Sullivan, Druscilla S.


In semiarid regions, the deer mouse (Peromyscus maniculatus) is a major small mammal species occupying perennial grassland habitats that include old-fields, native bunchgrass–sagebrush, and some agricultural settings. We investigated population changes in deer mouse populations in perennial grasslands, both natural and old-field, from 1982 to 2003 in southern British Columbia, Canada. Hypotheses (H) predicted that P. maniculatus populations will have (H1) multiannual fluctuations in abundance driven by population increases from extended breeding in summer and winter; (H2) relaxed spring reorganization events in some years leading to higher overall recruitment and survival; and (H3) interspecific competition with montane voles that causes deer mice to be lower in density when voles are higher. P. maniculatus populations in old-field and grass–sagebrush sites had clearly defined periods of high “peak” mean numbers (32–52/ha) and other times of low mean numbers (20–22/ha). Based on mean annual peak density in autumn, deer mouse populations exhibited fluctuations of 3–4 years in both habitats, but this pattern was not always present. The greater numbers of P. maniculatus in high than low years was directly related to population increases from extended breeding seasons and an increased number of lactating females, thereby supporting H1. Spring breeding season declines occurred but were similar or less in high than low years of mean abundance and were relaxed in comparison to forest populations of deer mice in other studies. Thus, H2 was supported for recruitment with high numbers of young-of-the-year breeding and total number of juvenile recruits but for survival was equivocal. Total summer survival was consistently higher in high than low population years but juvenile productivity in all years was poor. Mean abundance of P. maniculatus and M. montanus in old-field sites were highly correlated, and hence H3 was not supported. This latter result is the first, to our knowledge, of P. maniculatus coexisting in a similar pattern of population fluctuations with a Microtus species in a mainland grassland habitat. Higher than average precipitation in the year preceding a peak population of deer mice may have enhanced herbaceous vegetation and contributed to population increases in both habitats. We conclude that the old-field habitat associated with this agricultural setting provides optimum habitat for P. maniculatus and facilitates multiannual population fluctuations in this species.

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