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Biogeographical variation in the diet of Holarctic martens (genus Martes, Mammalia: Carnivora: Mustelidae): adaptive foraging in generalists

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Abstract Aim 

Studies comparing feeding habits across a genus in different geographical regions or habitats can identify factors associated with adaptive feeding behaviour, linking key ecological traits between consumers and their environment. We investigated biogeographical patterns in dietary composition and trophic diversity across the genus Martes in relation to geographical range and environmental variables. We hypothesized that widely distributed opportunistic Martes species should demonstrate adaptive variations in dietary composition and trophic diversity relative to regional geographical location (e.g. latitude, elevation), environmental variation (e.g. temperature, rainfall, snow cover and primary productivity) and concomitant variation in food supply. Location 

Europe, Asia and North America. Methods 

We examined the dietary habits of martens (Martes spp.) using original data expressed as relative frequency of occurrence, and using principal components analysis to extract the main gradients in diet composition. These were then used as response variables in regression analyses, predicted from latitude or elevation. Multiple regression analyses were performed to assess the influence of food types and environmental variables on the trophic diversity index. Results 

A clear latitudinal gradient in dietary composition was observed. Small mammals were the primary food type, but were less abundant in the diet of martens at lower latitude and elevation. Vegetable matter and insects were consumed more frequently in southerly and/or lower-elevation localities. Trophic diversity was lower at higher elevation, and increased with a decline in consumption of the dominant food types, i.e. rodents, fruits and insects. Trophic diversity also increased with increasing mean temperature. Main conclusions 

Biogeographical variations in feeding habits across the genus Martes proved to be associated with latitude, local climate (especially temperature regime) and the availability of alternative potential foods. On an extensive geographical scale, martens respond to varying food availability by adjusting their foraging strategy and thus should be considered facultative generalists. At the species level, however, different climatic variables emerged as differentially important, indicative of adaptations to local conditions. Martes species are opportunistic and flexible feeders, and thus their conservation requires informed management, mindful of how changes in environmental conditions might influence their varied food supply.

Keywords: Adaptive foraging; Holarctic region; Martes; climate; fruit availability; generalist; latitudinal patterns; martens; opportunistic feeder; trophic diversity

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: 1: Wildlife Conservation Research Unit, Department of Zoology, University of Oxford, The Recanati-Kaplan Centre, Tubney House, Tubney, Abingdon, Oxon OX13 5QL, UK 2: State Key Laboratory of Vegetation and Environmental Change, Institute of Botany, the Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing 100093, China 3: Mammal Research Institute, Polish Academy of Sciences, 17–230 Białowieża, Poland 4: Division of Ecosciences, Institute of Symbiotic Science and Technology, Tokyo University of Agriculture and Technology, Saiwaicho 3-5-8, Fuchu-city, Tokyo 183-8509, Japan

Publication date: 2011-01-01

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