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Cache and carry: hoarding behavior of arctic fox

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Abstract

Food-hoarding animals are expected to preferentially cache items with lower perishability and/or higher consumption time. We observed arctic foxes (Alopex lagopus) foraging in a greater snow goose (Anser caerulescens atlanticus) colony where the main prey of foxes consisted of goose eggs, goslings, and lemmings (Lemmus and Dicrostonyx spp.). We recorded the number of prey consumed and cached and the time that foxes invested in these activities. Foxes took more time to consume a goose egg than a lemming or gosling but cached a greater proportion of eggs than the other prey type. This may be caused by the eggshell, which presumably decreases the perishability and/or pilfering risk of cached eggs, but also increases egg consumption time. Arctic foxes usually recached goose eggs but rarely recached goslings or lemmings. We tested whether the rapid-sequestering hypothesis could explain this recaching behavior. According to this hypothesis, arctic foxes may adopt a two-stage strategy allowing both to maximize egg acquisition rate in an undefended nest and subsequently secure eggs in potentially safer sites. Foxes spent more time carrying an egg and traveled greater distances when establishing a secondary than a primary cache. To gain further information on the location and subsequent fate of cached eggs, we used dummy eggs containing radio transmitters. Lifespan of primary caches increased with distance from the goose nest. Secondary caches were generally located farther from the nest and had a longer lifespan than primary caches. Behavioral observations and the radio-tagged egg technique both gave results supporting the rapid-sequestering hypothesis.

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Acknowledgements

We thank Gabrielle Darou, Marie-Andrée Giroux, Nicolas Lecomte, Ambroise Lycke, and Guillaume Szor for assistance and inspiration in the field. Gilles Gauthier provided logistic support and data on lemming abundance. We are indebted to the Hunters and Trappers Association of Pond Inlet, Nunavut Territory for supporting this study. VC is grateful to Sanimal for a scholarship and to Mountain Equipment Coop for camping equipment. Funding and logistic support were provided by Polar Continental Shelf Project, Fonds Québécois de la Recherche sur la Nature et les Technologies, Nunavut Wildlife Management Board, Parks Canada, Northern Scientific Training Program (Indian and Northern Affairs Canada), Canada Foundation for Innovation, Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, Canada Network of Centres of Excellence ArcticNet, and Canada Research Chair Program. We thank the Behavioral Ecology discussion group at McGill University and the GRÉCA (Groupe de Recherche en Écologie Comportementale et Animale) at UQÀM for fruitful discussions, especially Denis Réale for statistical advice. This manuscript greatly benefited from comments by Kimberley Mathot, Don Kramer, and three anonymous reviewers. This is Polar Continental Shelf Project contribution no 021-07.

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Correspondence to Vincent Careau.

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Communicated by E. Korpimäki

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Careau, V., Giroux, JF. & Berteaux, D. Cache and carry: hoarding behavior of arctic fox. Behav Ecol Sociobiol 62, 87–96 (2007). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00265-007-0441-z

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s00265-007-0441-z

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