Large-scale spatial and temporal patterns in population dynamics of the stoat, Mustela erminea, and the least weasel, M. nivalis, in Finland

Paavo Hellstedt, Janne Sundell, Pekka Helle, Heikki Henttonen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review


The stoat and the least weasel are specialist predators of small rodents, and therefore their numbers are likely to depend on the availability of voles. These small predators are ecologically alike, but they differ somewhat in their diet. The stoat is larger in size than the least weasel and therefore capable of using a wider variety of prey species, while the least weasel is more restricted to small mammals. Voles in northern Fennoscandia exhibit cyclic dynamics of 3-5 years with large-scale spatial synchrony and geographical trends in cycle length and amplitude. We predicted that the cyclic dynamics of voles are reflected in the dynamics of their predators with slight differences between the stoat and the least weasel. In this study we use snow-tracking data to characterize the dynamics of small mustelids. The data were collected from different parts of Finland using permanent triangle-shaped census routes of 12 km in 1989 to 2003. Population fluctuations of small mustelids were generally multiannually periodic and in synchrony over large areas, but we did not find any clear geographical gradient in the attribute of small mustelid dynamics comparable to those observed in vole population fluctuations. Instead, we found a similar decreasing temporal trend in the abundances of both species as has been recently reported for voles.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)286-298
Number of pages13
Publication statusPublished - 2006
MoE publication typeA1 Journal article-refereed

Fields of Science

  • 118 Biological sciences
  • 117 Geography, Environmental sciences

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