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Fluctuating resources and the evolution of litter size in the arctic fox
Stockholm University, Faculty of Science, Department of Zoology.
Stockholm University, Faculty of Science, Department of Zoology.ORCID iD: 0000-0001-5535-9086
1998 (English)In: Oikos, ISSN 0030-1299, E-ISSN 1600-0706, Vol. 83, no 3, 545-559 p.Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

Fluctuations in essential resources cause a strong selection pressure on the ability to adjust parental investment accordingly. In the dog family, Canidae, variance in female prebirth investment is adjusted by litter size. The arctic fox, Alopex lagopus, is a small canid living on the northern tundras of the world. It has the largest known litter size in the order Carnivora. up to 18 young, and litter size is highly variable. We have analysed data From arctic fox populations throughout the species circumpolar range. In some areas, arctic foxes feed on strongly fluctuating populations of small rodents. In contrast, they have more stable food resources at bird cliffs and along coast lines. Food availability determines arctic fos litter and population sizes. A comparison between fluctuating and stable arctic fox populations showed that fluctuations are associated with large litter sizes. There were significant differences in litter size means, maxima and variances, as well as in placental scar count means. We have discussed five hypotheses on the determination of variation in litter size: one energetic, one genetic (based on density variation), one diet-determined, one based on reproductive allocation and one based on differences in reaction norms. Our findings suggest that litter size in the arctic fox is determined by the combined effect of immediate resource levels and the degree of resource predictability. We describe reaction norms that suggest how litter sizes result from adaptive plasticity within each of two genetic strategies where, according to the jackpot hypothesis, populations with unpredictable food resources generally have larger litter sizes. Within each genetic strategy, or reaction norm, litter sizes are adjusted through a number of plastic trails. These traits are influenced by nutritional limitations and include reduced ovulation rates, prenatal losses, and litter size reduction during the lactation period.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Blackwell , 1998. Vol. 83, no 3, 545-559 p.
Keyword [en]
National Category
Natural Sciences
URN: urn:nbn:se:su:diva-29715ISI: 000078350500014ISBN: 0030-1299OAI: diva2:234776
ISI Document Delivery No.: 162MK Times Cited: 30 Cited Reference Count: 96Available from: 2009-09-10 Created: 2009-09-10 Last updated: 2014-10-13Bibliographically approved

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