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Does local feeding specialization exist in Eurasian badgers?

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Abstract:

Several local populations of the otherwise trophic-generalist Eurasian badger (Meles meles) have been defined as specializing locally on temporally variable food resources such as earthworms (Lumbricus spp.), olive fruits (Olea europaea), or young rabbits (Oryctolagus cuniculus), owing to a lack of correlation between resource availability and use. However, theoretical models predict that temporal variation in resources reduces the probability of diet specialization. To understand the relationship between temporal resource variability and local feeding specialization, we studied temporal variation in diet composition and diversity (using fecal analysis), the availability of a temporally stable key resource, and the relation between consumption and availability of rabbits (key prey) and invertebrates (secondary prey) for a badger population previously described as specialized on young rabbits. We found strong variations in the use of different resources (including young rabbits) and in diet diversity among seasons and years. The main food resource was young rabbits during winter and spring, fruits in autumn, and reptiles in summer. Diet diversity was inversely related to consumption of young rabbits and directly related to consumption of secondary prey (invertebrates). Consumption of rabbits (both young and adults) was correlated with their abundance in the field, with a type 3 functional response in the consumption of young rabbits, which is typical of a generalist to whom alternative prey are available. There was no relationship between the abundance of invertebrates and their consumption. Our results show that badgers in the study area were not locally specialized, therefore care should be taken when referring to a population as specialized without an adequate test of the predictions.

Plusieurs populations locales du blaireau eurasien (Meles meles), aux habitudes alimentaires ordinairement généralistes, sont reconnues comme des spécialistes de ressources alimentaires temporaires variables, telles que les vers de terre (Lumbricus spp.), les olives (Olea europaea) ou les jeunes lapins (Oryctolagus cuniculus), parce qu'il n'y a pas de corrélation entre la disponibilité de ces ressources et leur utilisation. Cependant, les modèles théoriques prédisent que la variation temporelle des ressources réduit la probabilité de la spécialisation du régime alimentaire. Pour comprendre la relation entre la variabilité des ressources et la spécialisation alimentaire locale, nous avons étudié la variation temporelle de la composition et de la diversité du régime (par analyse des fèces), la disponibilité d'une ressource importante stable et la relation entre la consommation et la disponibilité de lapins (proies principales) et d'invertébrés (proies secondaires) chez une population de blaireaux connue comme spécialisée dans la consommation de lapins. Nous avons trouvé d'importantes variations dans l'utilisation des différentes ressources (y compris les lapereaux) et la diversité des aliments selon la saison et l'année. Les lapereaux sont la ressource principale en hiver et au printemps, à l'automne, ce sont les fruits et, en été, les reptiles. La diversité dans le régime est inversement proportionnelle à la consommation de lapereaux et directement proportionnelle à la consommation des proies secondaires (invertébrés). La consommation de lapins (jeunes et adultes) est en corrélation avec leur abondance selon une réponse fonctionnelle de type 3 dans le cas des lapereaux, ce qui est typique d'un organisme généraliste qui a accès à des proies de rechange. Il n'y a pas de relation entre l'abondance des invertébrés et leur consommation. Les blaireaux de notre site d'étude ne sont donc pas localement des consommateurs spécialisés, ce qui souligne l'importance de ne pas considérer une population comme spécialisée sans avoir éprouvé l'exactitude des prédictions.[Traduit par la Rédaction]

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: January 1, 2002

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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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