Editor's choice November/December

Submitted by editor on 15 November 2022.

The editor’s choice is the article by Leif-Egil Loe and Olav Hjeljord: “The roles of climate and alternative prey in explaining 142 years of declining willow ptarmigan hunting yield

This study is truly exceptional because it presents one of the longest wildlife time series that I am aware of. In an “impressive detective work”, as one of the reviewers put it, the authors have compiled a 142-year data series on the number of willow ptarmigan Lagopus lagopus shot per hunter per day in south-eastern Norway. They use this as an index of abundance to shed light on changes in willow ptarmigan population fluctuations and trends over time, and to discuss potential ecological drivers.

The data show a dramatic decrease over time: before 1920, daily bags of 35 birds per hunter were common, while after 1990, even in the best years bags never exceeded 5 birds. Neither small rodent peaks nor climate provided a simple explanation. Instead, Loe and Hjeljord speculate that a long-term dampening in small rodent cycles has caused a shift in predation on ptarmigan, that prevented the populations from reaching their earlier peaks.

They also point to the issue of shifting baselines: What today’s hunters perceive as a good ptarmigan year would have been considered catastrophic a few generations ago.

Ilse Storch