• As the snowshoe hare population declines and rises, so does the population of the Canada lynx (Lynx canadensis). It is a classic biological population dynamic between prey and predator. Both species of animal are native to the northern forests of North America. The snowshoe hare makes up the majority of the Canadian lynx diet, and every 10 years or so when the hare population collapses, the lynx population follows suit. As the population rebounds, so too does the lynx.

    The Canada lynx is a close evolutionary relative of the bobcat, another small wild cat species native to North America. The bobcat generally lives in more southerly latitudes of Canada, the United States, and Mexico and is suited to a wider variety of habitats.

    Canada lynx are valued for their furs, and in many parts of Canada (and Alaska in the United States) a legal commercial harvest exists. In some states in Canada and the contiguous United States, trapping of lynx is prohibited due to small population numbers.

    The lynx is a solitary species and, like many species of cats in the wild, it has a defined geographic territory. Male lynx do not take on parental care of young in any known way, although a female lynx with young offspring has been observed to hunt cooperatively with its young, presumably as a teaching technique.

    Scientists who study the Canada lynx, snowshoe hare, and the ecosystem dynamics of their habitat are watching closely as climate change affects factors such as snowfall amounts and forest fire frequency and severity. These types of phenomena may put stressors on the two species, and reduce their ideal habitats.

    1. What is the relationship between the population numbers of snowshoe hare and the Canada lynx?

      Snowshoe hare populations follow a natural cycle of increase and decrease. The hares give birth of up to four litters of young each year, with litters sometimes including more than five young. These young hares mature within one year. As the population numbers increase year to year, the habitat reaches a point where there are not enough plant-based food sources for all of the hares.

      As their population’s increase, so too do numbers of Canada lynx. The lynx prey on the hares; as the habitat runs out of capacity to support the increasing number of hares, the animals near starvation, making them even easier prey for the lynx. With the increase in food availability, lynx numbers rise.

      The population numbers of the hares in this cyclical system will start to crash. With a lag time of about two years, the number of lynx will start to go down as well. Without outside disturbance that causes habitat loss or degradation, this cycle will repeat itself on average every 10 years.

    2. What are the other three species within the same genus—or the biological classification grouping—of the Canada lynx, and where on Earth are they found?

      The bobcat, Eurasian lynx, and Iberian lynx are the other three species in the genus known as Lynx. They share many characteristics such as a short tail and tufts of hair on the top of their ears. The bobcat has a wide range that expands across the United States, Mexico, and Canada. The Eurasian lynx is found in many parts of northern and central Europe and Asia, including the Tibetan plateau. The Iberian lynx was once found throughout much of the Iberian Peninsula, but now it is only found in very limited areas in Spain and Portugal.

    3. Are Canadian lynx killed legally for their furs?

      Yes. Trappers have been legally harvesting Canada lynx for their fur for more than two centuries. This still goes on today legally in the northern part of its range, although it is tightly managed by the government in Canada and the United States.

  • Term Part of Speech Definition Encyclopedic Entry
    commercial Adjective

    having to do with the buying and selling of goods and services.

    cooperative Adjective

    able to work with other individuals toward a common goal.

    ecosystem dynamics Plural Noun

    mechanisms of a community and interactions of living and nonliving things in an area.

    frequency Noun

    rate of occurrence, or the number of things happening in a specific area over specific time period.

    habitat Noun

    environment where an organism lives throughout the year or for shorter periods of time.

    Encyclopedic Entry: habitat
    phenomena Plural Noun

    (singular: phenomenon) any observable occurrence or feature.

    population dynamics Plural Noun

    branch of life science that studies patterns in the size and age of specific populations.

    severity Noun

    harshness or intensity.

    solitary Adjective

    alone or preferring to be alone.

    territory Noun

    land an animal, human, or government protects from intruders.