The arctic fox (Alopex lagopus) : an opportunistic specialist.
2000 (English)In: Journal of Zoology, Vol. 251, no 2, 139-149 p.Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Reliable and abundant resources are likely to favour specialisation, while unpredictable environmental variation should favour a generalist strategy. The rodent population cycles of northern latitudes can be seen as both predictable and unpredictable, depending on the scale in time and space. The arctic fox (Alopex lagopus) is an opportunistic carnivore, but paradoxically, it seems to function as a specialist on fluctuating rodent (Arvicolinae) populations in most inland areas. We have studied the dietary response of arctic foxes in Sweden during five years of varying abundance of Norwegian lemming (Lemmus lemmus), and how these changes influenced reproductive success of the foxes. The arctic fox population on mainland Fennoscandia is threatened by extinction and the situation has deteriorated during the 1980´s and 90´s, due to an absence of lemming peaks. Our results showed that in all years, lemming was the main prey for arctic foxes, with in total 85% frequency of occurrence in summer faeces (scats). Bird remains (mainly Passeriformes) were present in 34% of the scats, reindeer (Rangifer tarandus) in 21%, voles and shrews in 4% and hares (Lepus timidus) in 2% of the scats. The occurrences of lemming, bird and larger mammal (reindeer and hare) remains in the scats varied significantly between years. Temporal variations within summer seasons and dietary differences between subareas, indicated that arctic foxes fed opportunistically on the alternative prey types, when available. Den occupancy rates were positively correlated with lemming population densities during the previous winter, indicating a strong numerical response. We conclude that from a functional aspect, the arctic fox in Sweden is a lemming specialist, since lemming is the main prey and their abundance is the best predictor of arctic fox reproductive success. At the same time, other prey are used opportunistically in relation to their availability.
Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
2000. Vol. 251, no 2, 139-149 p.
Alopex lagopus, diet, predation, numerical response, functional response
Research subject Animal Ecology
IdentifiersURN: urn:nbn:se:su:diva-19841DOI: 10.1111/j.1469-7998.2000.tb00599.xOAI: oai:DiVA.org:su-19841DiVA: diva2:186365