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Mechanisms of truffle detection by northern flying squirrels

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Abstract:

The objective of this study was to evaluate how northern flying squirrels (Glaucomys sabrinus) locate truffles (Gautieria monticola), a subterranean and ephemeral but primary food source. Thus, we evaluated the importance of three factors to the foraging behavior of northern flying squirrels: (i) olfactory chemicals that emanate from truffles; (ii) the presence of coarse woody debris (decaying logs), which are often associated with fungi; and (iii) we explored the potential role animal memory could play in truffle detection as well. In a foraging arena, squirrels successfully retrieved buried truffles that lacked aboveground cues in 19 of 30 trials and failed to search near treatments that lacked truffles altogether, confirming the importance of olfaction to squirrel foraging. However, squirrels also retrieved truffles that were associated most frequently with surface logs (27 of 30). In addition, the initial detection rate of the truffle + log treatment was significantly greater than the truffle-only treatment. Thus, although squirrels search for truffles primarily using olfaction, they may also benefit by searching near coarse woody debris on the forest floor as an aboveground cue to truffle locations. In addition, because 82% of Sierra Nevada truffle-fruiting locations that were marked in 1996 yielded truffles again the following 2 years, mycophagous animals like northern flying squirrels may benefit by memorizing fruiting locations and foraging at these same locations from year to year.

L'objectif de notre étude est d'évaluer comment les Grands Polatouches (Glaucomys sabrinus) localisent les truffes (Gautieria monticola), un aliment souterrain et éphémère, mais une ressource alimentaire importante. Nous avons donc procédé à l'évaluation de l'importance de trois facteurs déterminants du comportement de quête de nourriture chez les Grands Polatouche : (i) les stimulus olfactifs qui émanent des truffes, (ii) la présence de gros débris ligneux (billes en décomposition) qui sont souvent associés aux champignons et (iii) le rôle potentiel de la mémoire animale dans la détection des truffes. Dans un enclos d'alimentation, les polatouches ont réussi a repérer les truffes enterrées dont aucun indice aérien ne révélait la présence dans 19 essais sur 30 et n'ont pas cherché près des zones sans truffes, ce qui confirme l'importance de l'olfaction dans la quête de nourriture des polatouches. Cependant, ce sont les truffes associées aux billes en décomposition qui ont été repérées le plus souvent (27 sur 30). De plus, la vitesse initiale de repérage des truffes dans le système de truffes + billes en décomposition était significativement plus élevée que dans la présentation de truffes seules. Donc, bien que les polatouches repèrent les truffes surtout par olfaction, ils peuvent également profiter d'une recherche dans le voisinage de débris de bois sur le sol de la forêt qui constituent des indices de la présence des truffes. De plus, comme 82 % des sites de fructification des truffes dans la Sierra Nevada marqués en 1996 ont produit encore des truffes au cours des 2 années subséquentes, les animaux mycophages comme les Grands Polatouches ont avantage à mémoriser la position des sites de fructification et à retourner à ces endroits pour y chercher leur nourriture année après année.[Traduit par la Rédaction]

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: June 1, 2001

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  • Published since 1929, this monthly journal reports on primary research contributed by respected international scientists in the broad field of zoology, including behaviour, biochemistry and physiology, developmental biology, ecology, genetics, morphology and ultrastructure, parasitology and pathology, and systematics and evolution. It also invites experts to submit review articles on topics of current interest.
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