UV-B-induced plant stress as a possible cause of ten-year hare cycles
Predation has been assumed to be a necessary factor in the ten-year population cycle of the snowshoe hare (Lepus americanus) and Canadian lynx (Lynx canadensis). The UV-B-induced plant stress hypothesis, in contrast, predicts that hare performance, especially reproduction, is negatively related to sunspot numbers, because production of UV-B-protective phenolics in food plants in periods of low sunspot activity, when the ozone layer is thin, increases the availability of amino acids and reduces the amount of phenolics that protect against herbivores. In accordance with the UV-B-induced plant stress hypothesis, and despite the absence of predators that have been assumed to be necessary for hare cycles, mountain hare (Lepus timidus) populations in Norway fluctuate in close synchrony with snowshoe hare populations in Alberta and the Yukon, Canada. When adjusting for the phase of the hare cycle, the natality of snowshoe hare in Alberta 1962–1976 was negatively related to sunspot numbers with a time lag of two years. It is concluded that delayed responses to UV-B-induced changes in plant chemistry during the sunspot cycle is a possible cause of ten-year cycles of hares and other herbivores, for example grouse and forest moths.