Acorn mast drives long-term dynamics of rodent and songbird populations

Oecologia. 2007 Dec;154(3):493-503. doi: 10.1007/s00442-007-0859-z. Epub 2007 Oct 9.


Resource pulses can have cascading effects on the dynamics of multiple trophic levels. Acorn mast is a pulsed resource in oak-dominated forests that has significant direct effects on acorn predators and indirect effects on their predators, prey, and pathogens. We evaluated changes in acorn mast, rodent abundance, raptor abundance, and reproductive success of a ground-nesting songbird over a 24-year period (1980-2004) in the southern Appalachian Mountains in an effort to determine the relationships among the four trophic levels. In particular, we examined the following: acorn mast from red oaks (Quercus rubra) and white oaks (Q. alba), abundance of white-footed mice (Peromyscus leucopus) and deer mice (P. maniculatus), population estimates of seven raptor species from three feeding guilds, and nest failure and number of juveniles of dark-eyed juncos (Junco hyemalis). Finally, we recorded seasonal temperature and precipitation to determine the effects of weather on each trophic level. We found that weather patterns had delayed effects of up to 3 years on these trophic interactions. Variation in acorn mast, the keystone resource in this community, was explained by weather conditions as far back as 2 years before the mast event. Acorn mast, in turn, was a strongly positive predictor of rodent abundance the following year, whereas spring and summer temperature and raptor abundance negatively affected rodent abundance. Dark-eyed junco nests were more likely to fail in years in which there were more rodents and raptors. Nest failure rate was a strong predictor of the number of juvenile juncos caught at the end of the summer. Our results improve our understanding of the complex ecological interactions in oak-dominated forests by illustrating the importance of abiotic and biotic factors at different trophic levels.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Ecosystem
  • Models, Statistical
  • Peromyscus
  • Population Dynamics
  • Quercus / physiology*
  • Reproduction
  • Rodentia / physiology*
  • Songbirds / physiology*
  • Time Factors