Environmental variation at the onset of independent foraging affects full-grown body mass in the red fox
Soulsbury, C. D., Iossa, G., Baker, P. J. and Harris, S. (2008) Environmental variation at the onset of independent foraging affects full-grown body mass in the red fox. Proceedings of the Royal Society of London B, 275 (1649). pp. 2411-8. ISSN 0962-8452
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To link to this item DOI: 10.1098/rspb.2008.0705
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 easy-to-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.