Behavioural plasticity modulates temperature-related constraints on foraging time for a montane mammal

Journal of Animal Ecology
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  1. Contemporary climate change is altering temperature profiles across the globe. Increasing temperatures can reduce the amount of time during which conditions are suitable for animals to engage in essential activities, such as securing food. Behavioural plasticity, the ability to alter behaviour in response to the environment, may provide animals with a tool to adjust to changes in the availability of suitable thermal conditions. The extent to which individuals can alter fitness‐enhancing behaviours, such as food collection, to proximately buffer variation in temperature, however, remains unclear. Even less well understood are the potential performance advantages of flexible strategies among endotherms.
  2. We examined the degree to which individuals altered rates of food collection in response to temperature, and two potential benefits, using the American pika (Ochotona princeps), a temperature‐sensitive, food‐hoarding mammal, as a model.
  3. From July–September 2013–2015, we used motion‐activated cameras and in situ temperature loggers to examine pika food‐caching activity for 72 individuals across 10 sites in the central Rocky Mountains, USA. We quantified % nitrogen by cache volume as a metric of cache quality, and the number of events during which pikas were active in temperatures ≥25°C as a measure of potential thermoregulatory stress.
  4. We found a strong negative effect of temperature on the rate at which pikas cached food. Individual responses to temperature varied substantially in both the level of food‐collecting activity and in the degree to which individuals shifted activity with warming temperature. After accounting for available foraging time, individuals that exhibited greater plasticity collected a comparable amount of nitrogen, while simultaneously experiencing fewer occasions in which temperatures eclipsed estimated thermal tolerances.
  5. By varying food‐collection norms of reaction, individuals were able to plastically respond to temperature‐driven reductions in foraging time. Through this increased flexibility, individuals amassed food caches of comparable quality, while minimizing exposure to potentially stressful thermal conditions. Our results suggest that, given sufficient resource quality and availability, plasticity in foraging activity may help temperature‐limited endotherms adjust to climate‐related constraints on foraging time.

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Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Behavioural plasticity modulates temperature-related constraints on foraging time for a montane mammal
Series title Journal of Animal Ecology
DOI 10.1111/1365-2656.12925
Volume 88
Issue 3
Year Published 2019
Language English
Publisher Wiley
Contributing office(s) Coop Res Unit Seattle
Description 13 p.
First page 363
Last page 375
Country United States
State Wyoming
Other Geospatial Bridger‐Teton National Forest
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