What to eat in a warming world: do increased temperatures necessitate hazardous duty pay?

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Contemporary climate change affects nearly all biomes, causing shifts in animal distributions and resource availability. Changes in resource selection may allow individuals to offset climatic stress, thereby providing a mechanism for persistence amidst warming conditions. Whereas the role of predation risk in food choice has been studied broadly, the extent to which individuals respond to thermoregulatory risk by changing resource preferences is unclear. We addressed whether individuals compensated for temperature-related reductions in foraging time by altering forage preferences, using the American pika (Ochotona princeps) as a model species. We tested two hypotheses: (1) food-quality hypothesis—individuals exposed to temperature extremes should select higher-quality vegetation in return for accepting a physiologically riskier feeding situation; and (2) food-availability hypothesis—individuals exposed to temperature extremes should prioritize foraging quickly, thereby decreasing selection for higher-quality food. We quantified the composition and quality (% moisture, % nitrogen, and fiber content) of available and harvested vegetation, and deployed a network of temperature sensors to measure in situ conditions for 30 individuals, during July–Sept., 2015. Individuals exposed to more extreme daytime temperatures showed increased selection for high-nitrogen and for low-fiber vegetation, demonstrating strong support for the food-quality hypothesis. By contrast, pikas that experienced warmer conditions did not reduce selection for any of the three vegetation-quality metrics, as predicted by the food-availability hypothesis. By shifting resource-selection patterns, temperature-limited animals may be able to proximately buffer some of the negative effects associated with rapidly warming environments, provided that sufficient resources remain on the landscape.

Additional publication details

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title What to eat in a warming world: do increased temperatures necessitate hazardous duty pay?
Series title Oecologia
DOI 10.1007/s00442-017-3993-2
Volume 186
Issue 1
Year Published 2018
Language English
Publisher Springer
Contributing office(s) Coop Res Unit Seattle
Description 12 p.
First page 73
Last page 84