Food hoarding is often considered an adaptive behaviour to extend the period of availability of food resources. Finding the right caching site for storage and retrieval is of paramount importance, yet how caching sites are selected is poorly known. Here, we examine site selection for egg caching by a tundra predator, the arctic fox, Vulpes lagopus, which can overcome large seasonal prey variations by extensive caching. During the short arctic summer, colonial breeding birds like geese produce in a short time period many eggs, which provide a large quantity of predictable resources for consumption and caching. We predicted that foxes would select caching sites with specific characteristics, such as shallow permafrost, and tall hummocks (small mounds in tundra landscapes, which should facilitate caching and provide visual cues for subsequent retrieval). We sampled the main physical characteristics of 48 caches and paired random sites inside a Greater Snow Goose (Chen caerulescens) colony. Our study shows that foxes favour cache sites characterized by hummocks nearly twice as higher than at nearby random sites. The depth of the active layer of permafrost did not influence cache site selection. Foxes may select tundra features that possibly enhance caching efficiency and retrieval probability. Our study elucidates one aspect of food hoarding behaviour in extreme habitats characterized by strong variations of resource availability.
Habitat selection Food storage Hoarding Predator Arctic fox
This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.
Funding was provided by grants from the Canada Research Chair program to Nicolas Lecomte; the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada to Gilles Gauthier, Nicolas Lecomte, and J.-F. Giroux; the Arctic Goose Joint Venture (Canadian Wildlife Service), ArcticNet, the Université de Moncton, and the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development. Logistic support was generously provided by the Polar Continental Shelf Project (PCSP). The authors thank all the people who participated in the fieldwork. The author are indebted to the Hunters and Trappers Association of Pond Inlet and to Parks Canada for allowing us to work on Bylot Island. The authors thank François Rousseu, Pauline Toni and Daniel Garrett for their helpful comments on previous drafts of the manuscript.
Compliance with ethical standards
Conflict of interest
The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.
Human and animal rights
All applicable international, national, and/or institutional guidelines for the care and use of animals were followed. All procedures performed in this study, which involves animals, were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institution or practice at which the studies were conducted.
R Core Team (2017) R: a language and environment for statistical computing. R Foundation for Statistical Computing, Vienna, Austria. ISBN 3-900051-07-0. http://www.R-project.org
Reichman OJ (1988) Caching behaviour by eastern woodrats, Neotoma floridana, in relation to food perishability. Anim Behav 36:1525–1532CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Samelius G, Alisauskas RT, Hobson KA, Larivière S (2007) Prolonging the arctic pulse: long-term exploitation of cached eggs by arctic foxes when lemmings are scarce. J Anim Ecol 76:873–880CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
Scott TG (1943) Some food coactions of the northern plains red fox. Ecol Monogr 13:427–479CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Sharp RP (1942) Soil structures in the St. Elias Range, Yukon territory. Columbia University Press, New YorkGoogle Scholar
Smith CC, Reichman OJ (1984) The evolution of food caching by birds and mammals. Annu Rev Ecol Syst 15:329–351CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Smulders TV, Gould KL, Leaver LA (2010) Using ecology to guide the study of cognitive and neural mechanisms of different aspects of spatial memory in food-hoarding animals. Philos Trans R Soc B 365:883–900CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Steele MA, Hadj-Chikh LZ, Hazeltine J (1996) Caching and feeding decisions by Sciurus carolinensis: responses to weevil-infested acorns. J Mammal 77:305–314CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Steele MA, Manierre S, Genna T et al (2006) The innate basis of food-hoarding decisions in grey squirrels: evidence for behavioural adaptations to the oaks. Anim Behav 71:155–160CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Stefansson V (1923) Länder der Zukunft. Brockhaus, LeipzigGoogle Scholar
Stickney A (1991) Seasonal patterns of prey availability and the foraging behavior of arctic foxes (Alopex lagopus) in a waterfowl nesting area. Can J Zool 69:2853–2859CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Tarnocai C, Zoltai SC (1988) Wetlands of arctic Canada. Wetlands of Canada. Polyscience Publications Inc., Montreal, pp 29–53Google Scholar
Vander Wall SB (1990) Food hoarding in animals. University of Chicago Press, ChicagoGoogle Scholar
Vander Wall SB (2000) The influence of environmental conditions on cache recovery and cache pilferage by yellow pine chipmunks (Tamias amoenus) and deer mice (Peromyscus maniculatus). Behav Ecol 11:544–549CrossRefGoogle Scholar