Influence of food hoarding behavior on the over-winter survival of pikas in strongly seasonal environments

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Authors Shawn F. Morrison, Graeme Pelchat, Aaron Donahue & David S. Hik
Journal/Conference Name Oecologia
Paper Category , ,
Paper Abstract Food hoarding is a behavioral adaptation of some herbivores to manage food availability through time and space. In strongly seasonal environments, where summer growing seasons are short relative to winter, an earlier start to hoarding should increase the amount of vegetation stored for winter and improve subsequent survival. We examined hoarding behavior (‘haying’) and its impact on survival for a small alpine lagomorph, the collared pika (Ochotona collaris) in Yukon, Canada. We used a combination of video surveillance, haypile measurements, and survival data from marked individuals of known age and sex. Annual haypile initiation was strongly influenced by age and year. Adult pikas began haying an average of 16 days earlier in 2004 relative to 2005, whereas young of the year (juveniles) did not vary in the timing of haypile initiation. The mean haying rate per hour increased monthly from 3.7 ± 0.7 trips in June to 6.6 ± 0.8 trips in August. Simulation analysis estimated the median haypile mass (dry weight) by mid-September to be 5.5 kg. At least 75% of simulated haypiles had a minimum of 90 days (3 months) of food reserves, and 50% of simulated haypiles had a minimum of 177 days (5.9 months) of food reserves by mid-September, supporting the hypothesis that haypiles serve as the primary source of food during winter. Survival was greatest for pikas in 2005 when they began haying prior to 31 July, but the benefits of earlier accumulation of vegetation on survival also varied between years. The implications of earlier spring snowmelt are discussed with respect to pika foraging and overwinter survival.
Date of publication 2008
Code Programming Language R
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