Resource pulses, switching trophic control, and the dynamics of small mammal assemblages in arid Australia

Mike Letnic*, Paul Story, Georgeanna Story, Judith Field, Oliver Brown, Christopher R. Dickman

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

65 Citations (Scopus)


Small mammal assemblages in the aridlands of the Southern Hemisphere often have wildly fluctuating dynamics. Previous studies have attributed these fluctuations to climate-driven pulses in food resources resulting in the switching of trophic control from bottom-up (food-limited) to top-down (predation-limited) population regulation, and vice versa. In this study we use a meta-analytic approach to evaluate the evidence for the phenomenon of switching trophic control. If shifting trophic control is a unifying phenomenon that shapes small mammal assemblages in arid Australia, we would expect the abundance and species richness of small mammals to increase with increasing primary productivity and the abundance of small mammals to decrease with increasing predator abundances, which lag behind those of small mammals. We tested these predictions using data compiled from 6 unpublished and 2 published data sets containing time series (311 years) of small mammal and predator community dynamics. Our analyses provide moderate support for the notion that switching trophic control is a unifying phenomenon shaping small mammal assemblages. Also, our results provide evidence that top-down and bottom-up control are not mutually exclusive phenomena driving desert small mammal assemblages but rather alternative ecosystem states that exist along a rainfall-driven continuum of ecosystem energy flux through time.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1210-1222
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Mammalogy
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2011
Externally publishedYes


  • alternative stable states
  • bottom-up versus top-down control
  • climatic oscillations
  • El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO)
  • predation
  • resource pulse
  • small mammal
  • trophic cascade


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