Population cycles and changes in body size of the lynx in Alaska

Yoram Yom-Tov*, Shlomith Yom-Tov, Dusty MacDonald, Elad Yom-Tov

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The lynx Lynx canadensis is a common predator in the boreal forests of North America. Its population fluctuates during a 9- to 11-year cycle in synchrony with the population size of its main prey, the snowshoe hare Lepus americanus. Using adult museum specimens, we studied changes in skull (and hence body) size of the lynx in Alaska during the second half of the 20th century. The population cycle in Alaska averaged 9 years, similar to that reported in the neighbouring Yukon. Using harvest data of lynx as an estimate of population size, we found that skull size was negatively related to population size. This relationship was strongest not for the population density in the year of death (X), but for year X-3, a carry-over effect from the first year (or years) of life, indicating that conditions during the fast-growth years are determining body size. We suggest that the density-dependent effect is probably due to changes in food supply, either resulting from the adverse effects of competition or a possible diminished availability of food. Two skull parameters decreased significantly during the second half of the 20th century. We do not know the cause for the year effect and suggest that it might be due to a long-term change in the availability of prey. Canine size did not change during the study period, probably an indication that snowshoe hares maintained their status as the main prey of the lynx throughout the study period.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)239-244
Number of pages6
Issue number2
StatePublished - May 2007


  • Alaska
  • Body size
  • Density dependence
  • Lynx
  • Lynx canadensis
  • Population cycles


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