Matching productivity to resource availability in a small predator, the stoat (Mustela erminea)

Stoats (Mustela erminea), introduced to New Zealand in the late nineteenth century, are common in New Zealand beech (Nothofagus sp.) forests, where populations of feral house mice (Mus musculus) fluctuate between years much as voles do in the northern hemisphere. We present new field evidence and two models demonstrating (i) a strong correlation between density indices for young stoats in summer and for mice in the previous spring, and (ii) a significant linear relationship between productivity per female and spring density of mice up to 25 mice captures per 100 trap-nights. These models confirm that short-lived small mustelid predators dependent on fluctuating populations of prey have evolved means of matching their productivity to the prospects of success across a wide range, from total failure in rodent crash years to >12 independent young per female in rodent peak years. We suggest that the enhanced reproductive success of female stoats when rodents are abundant is due to a combination of critical improvements in both the reproductive physiology and the foraging behaviour of female stoats in rodent peak years. Conversely, a drastic shortage of rodents increases the mortality of embryos and nestlings, while the adult females are able to survive, and even remain relatively fat, on other foods.

Author King, C. M., White, P.C.L, Purdey, D. C. and Lawrence, B.
Date null
Year 2003
Secondary title Canadian Journal of Zoology
Volume 81
Number 4
Pages 662-669
Notes Notes
Region NZ