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

Soulsbury, Carl D., Iossa, Graziella, 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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