Environmental variation at the onset of independent foraging affects full-grown body mass in the red fox

Soulsbury, Carl D. and Iossa, Graziella and Baker, Philip J. and Harris, Stephen (2008) Environmental variation at the onset of independent foraging affects full-grown body mass in the red fox. Proceedings of the Royal Society, London B, 275 (1649). pp. 2411-2418. ISSN 0962-8452

Full content URL: http://dx.doi.org/10.1098/rspb.2008.0705

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The period following the withdrawal of parental care has been highlighted as a key developmental period
for juveniles. One reason for this is that juveniles cannot forage as competently as adults, potentially placing
them at greater risk from environmentally-induced changes in food availability. However, no study has
examined this topic. Using a long-term dataset on red foxes (Vulpes vulpes), we examined (i) dietary
changes that occurred in the one-month period following the attainment of nutritional independence,
(ii) diet composition in relation to climatic variation, and (iii) the effect of climatic variation on subsequent
full-grown mass. Diet at nutritional independence contained increased quantities of easy-to-catch
food items (earthworms and insects) when compared with pre-independence. Interannual variation in
the volume of rainfall at nutritional independence was positively correlated to the proportion of
earthworms in cub diet. Pre-independence cub mass and rainfall immediately following nutritional
independence explained a significant proportion of variance in full-grown mass, with environmental
variation affecting full-grown mass of the entire cohorts. Thus, weather-mediated availability of easyto-
catch food items at a key developmental stage has lifelong implications for the development of juvenile
foxes by affecting full-grown mass, which in turn appears to be an important component of individual
reproductive potential.

Keywords:red fox, rainfall, weather, foraging, skill development
Subjects:C Biological Sciences > C120 Behavioural Biology
C Biological Sciences > C300 Zoology
Divisions:College of Science > School of Life Sciences
ID Code:6409
Deposited On:03 Oct 2012 16:15

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