Seasonal changes in age class structure and reproductive status of house mice on Marion Island (sub-Antarctic)
Feral house mice on sub-Antarctic Marion Island become reproductively active (males scrotal, females with perforate vaginas or pregnant) at an age > 60 days and breed until death, which may occur at more than 13 months. Breeding is strongly seasonal; pregnant or lactating females were found only from October to May. A substantial proportion of mice old enough to breed in one summer overwinters to form a significant component of the breeding population the following summer but it is unlikely that any survive a second winter. The onset of breeding is closely synchronized with increasing day length but occurs about 2 months before mean temperature at the ground surface starts to increase significantly. Cessation of breeding is more closely associated with declining temperatures in late summer. For both males and females, the best correlation between reproductive activity and any of the temperature parameters measured was with average maximum temperature 1 cm above the ground. Competition for macroinvertebrate prey increases sharply in early winter due to high mouse numbers. The breeding season in 1991/1992 and 1992/ 1993 was at least 2 months longer than in 1979/1980, because the mice started breeding earlier, and stopped breeding later, in 1991/1993. The later cessation of breeding in 1991/1993 was despite the fact that there was a greater competition for macroinvertebrate prey, and that mean air temperatures during the early winter months were lower, than in 1979/1980.