The impact of maternal experience on post-weaning survival in an endangered arctic fox population
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Behavioural differences in parental care can influence offspring survival through variation in e.g. antipredator behaviour and ability to provide food. In a broad range of species, offspring survival has been found to be higher for experienced females compared to inexperienced first-time breeders. The increase in offspring survival for experienced females has mainly been explained by improved experience in providing food. In this paper, we have studied post-weaning juvenile survival in relation to maternal experience in an endangered population of arctic foxes (Vulpes lagopus) in Fennoscandia. For cubs raised by inexperienced and experienced females, the survival rate was 0.42 (CI 95% ± 0.31) and 0.87 (CI 95% ± 0.08), respectively. There was no difference in body condition between the cubs and no observations of starvation. We suggest that the difference in survival was due to lack of experience to one of the most common predators, the golden eagle (Aquila chrysaetos). Golden eagles were mainly observed on dens with litters where the females were inexperienced first-time breeders. From a conservation perspective, it is therefore important to increase adult survival through actions to enlarge the proportion of experienced breeders.
KeywordsAlopex lagopus Conservation Aquila chrysaetos Parental experience Population dynamics Body index Juvenile survival
We are grateful to Lars Liljemark and Lars Back at the County Board Administration in Jämtland for data collection and logistic help; Bodil Elmhagen for comments on the manuscript and Magne Friberg for statistical advice. This study was financed by EU-LIFE, WWF Sweden, Fjällräven AB, Swedish research council and the International Polar Year (IPY). We are grateful to the Swedish Polar Research Secretariat for logistical support.
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