State-dependent foraging by caribou with different nutritional requirements

Kristin Denryter, Rachel C Cook, John G Cook, Katherine L Parker, Michael P Gillingham
Journal of Mammalogy 2020 May 19, 101 (2): 544-557
Foraging by animals is hypothesized to be state-dependent, that is, varying with physiological condition of individuals. State often is defined by energy reserves, but state also can reflect differences in nutritional requirements (e.g., for reproduction, lactation, growth, etc.). Testing hypotheses about state-dependent foraging in ungulates is difficult because fine-scale data needed to evaluate these hypotheses generally are lacking. To evaluate whether foraging by caribou ( Rangifer tarandus ) was state-dependent, we compared bite and intake rates, travel rates, dietary quality, forage selection, daily foraging time, and foraging strategies of caribou with three levels of nutritional requirements (lactating adults, nonlactating adults, subadults 1-2 years old). Only daily foraging times and daily nutrient intakes differed among nutritional classes of caribou. Lactating caribou foraged longer per day than nonlactating caribou-a difference that was greatest at the highest rates of intake, but which persisted even when intake was below requirements. Further, at sites where caribou achieved high rates of intake, caribou in each nutritional class continued foraging even after satisfying daily nutritional requirements, which was consistent with a foraging strategy to maximize energy intake. Foraging time by caribou was partially state-dependent, highlighting the importance of accounting for physiological state in studies of animal behavior. Fine-scale foraging behaviors may influence larger-scale behavioral strategies, with potential implications for conservation and management.

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