Numerical and behavioral effects within a pulse-driven system: Consequences for shared prey

Kenneth A. Schmidt, Richard S. Ostfeld

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

100 Scopus citations


Some of the clearest examples of the ramifying effects of resource pulses exist in deciduous forests dominated by mast-producing trees, such as oaks, beech, and hornbeam. Seed production in these forests represents only the first of several pulsed events. Secondary pulses emerge as mast-consuming small rodents numerically respond to seed production and tertiary pulses emerge as generalist predators numerically respond to rodents. Raptors may also respond behaviorally (i.e., diet shifts) to subsequent crashes in small rodents following the crash phase in seed production. In oak-dominated forest in the Hudson Valley, New York, these various pulse and crash phases act synergistically, although not simultaneously, to influence thrush population dynamics through predation on nests, juveniles, and adults. As a consequence, factors limiting population growth rate and their age-specific action vary as a function of past acorn production. We highlight these interactions based on our eight-year study of thrush demography, acorn production, and small mammal abundance coupled with information on regional adult thrush population trends from the Breeding Bird Survey. We use these data sets to demonstrate the sequence of primary to tertiary pulses and how they influence breeding thrush populations. To extend our discussion beyond masting phenomena in the eastern United States, we briefly review the literature of alternative avian prey within pulsed systems to show (1) numerical and behavioral responses by generalist predators are ubiquitous in pulsed systems, and this contributes to (2) variability in reproduction and survivorship of avian prey linked to the underlying dynamics of the pulse. We conclude by exploring the broad consequences of cascading resource pulses for alternative prey based upon the indirect interaction of apparent competition among shared prey and the nature of temporal variability on populations.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)635-646
Number of pages12
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 2008


  • Apparent competition
  • Predation
  • Resource pulse
  • Temporal variability
  • Trophic cascade


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