Bodil Elmhagen

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Abstract

Food-niche overlap between arctic and red foxes

Arctic foxes (Alopex lagopus) in Fennoscandia have retreated to higher altitudes on the mountain tundra, possibly because of increased competition with red foxes (Vulpes vulpes) at lower altitudes. In this study we compare summer food niches of the two species in mountain tundra habitat. Arctic foxes consumed lemmings more often than red foxes did, while red foxes consumed field voles and birds more often. Yet despite substantial variation in the diet of each species among summers, food-niche overlaps between the species were consistently high in most summers, as arctic and red foxes responded similarly to temporal changes in prey availability. Occurrences of field voles and birds in fox scats were negatively correlated with altitude, while the occurrences of lemmings tended to increase with altitude. Since arctic foxes bred at higher altitudes than red foxes, the differences between arctic and red fox diets were better explained by altitudinal segregation than by differences between their fundamental food niches. Arctic foxes should therefore endeavour to use the more productive hunting grounds at the lower altitudes of their former range, but interference competition with red foxes might decrease their access to these areas, and consequently cause a decrease in the size of in their realised niche.

Reference
Elmhagen B, Tannerfeldt M, Angerbjörn A. (2002) Food-niche overlap between arctic and red foxes. Canadian Journal of Zoology 80: 1274-1285.

 
   

 

 

Norwegian lemming
(Lemmus lemmus)
 

Field vole (Microtus agrestis)