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Individual variation in the ability of Columbian ground squirrels to select an optimal diet

Summary

Columbian ground squirrels (Spermophilus columbianus) were examined for ability to select a diet that maximizes daily energy intake (optimal diet) under free-living field conditions. The optimal diet for each squirrel was determined given constraints (e.g. body size, feeding time) on individual foraging behavior. Most squirrels (63%) consumed a diet not significantly different from one that would maximize their daily energy intake. The remainder (37%) approached an energy maximized diet but appeared to make some incorrect foraging decisions. Both males and females appeared to approach energy maximized diets. An individual's deviation from its optimal diet is relatively constant within a season and not significantly affected by immediate environmental influences such as food abundance, thermal conditions and social environment. The energy cost of deviating from an optimal diet may be large enough to affect fitness. These results suggest that the ability to select an optimal diet can be viewed as a behavioral trait that might be subject to natural selection.

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Ritchie, M.E. Individual variation in the ability of Columbian ground squirrels to select an optimal diet. Evol Ecol 2, 232–252 (1988). https://doi.org/10.1007/BF02214285

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/BF02214285

Keywords

  • Optimal foraging
  • individual variation
  • ground squirrels
  • energy budget
  • ontogeny