Winter breeding under the snow is a critical ecological adaptation of lemmings and a key demographic process in their periodic multiannual fluctuations in abundance. However, logistic constraints limit our ability to quantify lemming winter reproduction. We evaluated a method to infer lemming reproduction based on the size distribution of feces found in their winter nests. We determined criteria allowing identification of reproduction from feces found in nests, using golden Syrian hamsters (Mesocricetus auratus) as a surrogate model. We found a large difference in individual mass of feces between juveniles at weaning and adults. Using bimodal distribution of feces size, mean size difference, and proportion of small feces, we showed that visual inspection of ≥30 feces was sufficient to infer hamster reproduction with an accuracy of >95%. We also applied the method to winter nests of collared lemmings (Dicrostonyx groenlandicus) and brown lemmings (Lemmus trimucronatus) found in the Canadian Arctic. Because characteristics of feces found in lemming winter nests matched those found in hamster nests, we suggest that the method can be used to detect winter reproductive activity of lemmings.
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Vol. 92 • No. 3