The Lynx-Snowshoe Hare Cycle
primary food of the lynx is the snowshoe hare and therefore the
population cycles of these two species are closely linked. When hares
are plentiful, lynx eat little else, taking about two hares every three
days. When hares are scarce, lynx also prey upon mice, voles, squirrels,
grouse, and ptarmigan, and they will also eat carrion. However, these
food sources often do not meet the lynx's nutritional needs. Some lynx
cannot maintain their body fat reserves, and become more vulnerable to
starvation or predation. Other lynx manage to remain healthy by using
alternative prey and food sources when the hares are low. When snowshoe
hares are scarce, many lynx leave their home range in search of food.
This illustrates parts of the Roy cycle that also occurs in economics and other parts of society. R prey are in a chaotic relationship with Oy predators, both use secrecy and speed to survive as well as faster birth rates. This then moves between a ceiling of high population like a boom in an economy and crashes to a floor as a recession. When R grows in numbers the Oy predators can lag, then they can overshoot eating too many R hares causing the numbers to crash and eventual starvation of some Oy lynx. Then the cycles keep repeating but in a chaotic way rather than having an average or normal pattern.
In Roy there are also Ro prey and Y predators, these move in teams and offset this chaos with random behavior on a normal curve. Their numbers tend to have an equilibrium or normal center and over or under population is deviant to this. The combination of Oy-R moving between floors and ceiling and Y-Ro moving around a normal level gives stability and innovation to the gene pool, O is the middle of the food chain where animals tend to be partially chaotic and random.
Across most of the boreal forest, hare populations experience dramatic fluctuations in a cycle that lasts 8-11 years. At the peak of the cycle, snowshoe hares can reach a density of up to 1500 hares per km2. The habitat cannot support this many animals, and as predation increases and starvation sets in, the population starts to decline. Continued predation accelerates the hare population decline, since lynx and other predators are at a population high. When the hare population reaches a low level, it stabilizes, for several years. The food plants slowly recover and the hare population starts to increase again. Since hares have several litters each year, the hare population increases rapidly. After a year or two at high densities, the hare cycle repeats itself.
The lynx population decline follows the snowshoe hare population crash after a lag of 1 to 2 years. As hare numbers start to decline, lynx continue to eat well because they easily catch the starving hares. When hares become scarce, the lynx numbers decline as well. Their lack of fat reserves makes them less able to live through starvation and cold temperatures. Food shortages also cause behavioural changes such as increased roaming and loss of caution. This increases their vulnerability to predation. Malnourishment has the most significant effect upon lynx reproduction and population levels. When females are in poor condition, fewer will breed and not all of those bred will produce litters. Litters will be smaller, and most, if not all, of the few kittens born will die soon after birth. This means that for a period of 3 to 5 years, few or no kittens survive to adulthood. Studies have shown that the level of kittens in a lynx population may be zero at the population low, and as high as 60% when their numbers are increasing. Low lynx population levels last for 3 or 4 years. When hares become plentiful again, the lynx population begins to increase as well.