Bodil Elmhagen

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Abstract

An experimental approach to the formation of diet preferences and individual specialisation in European mink

Individual dietary specialisation can occur within populations even when average diets suggest that the population has a generalist feeding strategy. Individual specialisation may impact fitness and has been related to demographic traits, ecological opportunity, competition, learning and animal personality. However, the causation and formation of individual specialisation are not fully understood. Experiments on animals raised in controlled environments provide an opportunity to examine dietary preferences and learning largely independent from variation in lifetime experiences and ecological opportunity. Here, we use a feeding experiment to examine individual specialisation and learning in captive bred European mink (Mustela lutreola) in an Estonian conservation programme. In a series of cafeteria experiments, animals could choose between one familiar food item (Baltic herring Clupea harengus membras) and two initially novel ones (noble crayfish Astacus astacus and house mouse Mus musculus). In general, mice were rarely eaten whilst crayfish consumption increased over time and fish decreased. At the individual level, there was a mix of generalists and crayfish or fish specialists, and the individuals differed in learning time in relation to novel prey. Our results indicate that individual variation in innate preferences and learning both contributes to individual diet specialisation. The differences in learning indicate individual variation in behavioural plasticity, which in turn can be related to personality. This could be of concern in conservation, as personality has been shown to affect survival in translocations.

Reference
Haage M, Angerbjörn A, Elmhagen B, Maran T (2017) An experimental approach to the formation of diet preferences and individual specialisation in European mink. European Journal of Wildlife Research: Early view.


 
 
 


European mink at the conservation breeding facility at Tallinn Zoological Gardens in Estonia