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Surviving on cached foods - the energetics of egg-caching by arctic foxes
journal contributionposted on 2008-01-01, 00:00 authored by Vincent Careau, J Giroux, G Gauthier, D Berteaux
Food-caching by arctic foxes (Vulpes lagopus (L., 1758)) is a behavioural adaptation thought to increase winter survival, especially in bird colonies where a large number of eggs can be cached during a short nesting season. In this paper, we measured the energy content of greater snow goose (Chen caerulescens atlantica Kennard, 1927) eggs and evaluated their perishability when cached in tundra soil for a whole summer. We estimated that eggs lost only ~8% of their dry mass over 60 days of storage in the ground. We used published estimates on digestibility of nutrients by arctic foxes to estimate that fresh and stored goose eggs contained 816 and 730 kJ of metabolizable energy, respectively, a difference of 11%. Using information on arctic fox energetics, we evaluated that 145 stored eggs were required to sustain the growth of one pup from the age of 1 to 3 months (nutritional independence). Moreover, 23 stored eggs were energetically equivalent to the average fat deposit of an arctic fox during winter. Finally, we calculated that an adult arctic fox would need to recover 160-220 stored eggs to survive 6 months in resting conditions during cold winter temperatures. This value increased to 480 when considering activity cost. Based on egg acquisition and caching rates observed in many goose colonies, we conclude that cached eggs represent an important source of energy relative to the needs of an arctic fox during winter, and have thus a high fitness value.