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Contributing to characterise wild predator behaviour: consumption pattern, spatial distribution and bone damage on ungulate carcasses consumed by red fox (Vulpes vulpes)

Abstract

Neo-taphonomic studies of carnivores are commonly used to explain the formation processes of Pleistocene faunal assemblages. However, these works have been developed mostly with large carnivores—e.g. hyenas. On the contrary, small and medium-sized carnivores have been scarcely studied in spite of their presence in most of the archaeological sites. Here, we present a study trying to characterise the wild predator behaviour from a taphonomic perspective, describing consumption patterns on 23 small-sized ungulate carcasses eaten by red foxes (Vulpes vulpes) during a 2-year period in the Spanish Pyrenees. The aim of this work, therefore, is to characterise taphonomically this predator and to obtain data to distinguish them from other most common carnivores. For that, a combination of observational data from photo/video-trap and taphonomic analyses was compiled, allowing us to control variables like seasonality and time of consumption, as well as the spatial dispersion of skeletal remains. The initial interest by foxes lies in the disassembly of the anatomical elements and their transport to secluded places giving rise to dispersion of bones. Regarding to seasonality, bone modification increases at the end of winter/spring time, and proportionally, the time of consumption decreases. When the carcass is complete, viscera seem to be an important resource, followed by meat covering femur and humerus. This phenomenon causes significant damage on axial bones (mainly fractures and tooth marks), and to a lesser extent, on pelvis and proximal stylopodials.

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Acknowledgements

This research project was carried out thanks to the support of the Direcció General dels Agents Rurals (Direcció General de Forest, Departament d’Agricultura, Ramaderia, Pesca i Alimentació) of the Generalitat de Catalunya. This work was supported by the Spanish MINECO/FEDER projects CGL2015-65387-C3-1-P (J. Rosell) and CGL2015-68604-P (R. Blasco), the Generalitat de Catalunya-AGAUR projects 2014 SGR 900 and 2014/100573, and the SENECA Foundation project 19434/PI/14. M. Arilla is the beneficiary of a research fellowship (FI) from AGAUR (2017FI-B-00096). We thank Raquel Pérez Martínez for her help with geographical information system and data recovery, Jordi Fàbregas for his comments and very useful help with fieldwork, and Robert Romero (Rasca) for editing videos.

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Correspondence to Ruth Blasco.

Electronic supplementary material

Table S1

Number of observations by fox characteristics, presence of other carnivores and features of consumed ungulates. (XLS 38 kb)

Video S1

Start of the consumption process showing the approach of foxes to the carcass and first contact (OB.17). (MOV 48652 kb)

Video S2

Accelerated sequence of viscera consumption leading to axial bone damage (OB. 20). (MOV 112518 kb)

Removal and transport of an appendicular element (OB. 3). (MOV 47863 kb)

Video S4

An accelerated sequence of a fox feeding on appendicular skeleton (OB. 20–22). (MOV 111857 kb)

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Arilla, M., Rosell, J. & Blasco, R. Contributing to characterise wild predator behaviour: consumption pattern, spatial distribution and bone damage on ungulate carcasses consumed by red fox (Vulpes vulpes). Archaeol Anthropol Sci 11, 2271–2291 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12520-018-0675-x

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s12520-018-0675-x

Keywords

  • Taphonomy
  • Actualism
  • Animal behaviour
  • Vulpes vulpes