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From breeding pairs to fox towns: the social organisation of arctic fox populations with stable and fluctuating availability of food
Stockholm University, Faculty of Science, Department of Zoology.
Stockholm University, Faculty of Science, Department of Zoology.ORCID iD: 0000-0002-9707-5206
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2014 (English)In: Polar Biology, ISSN 0722-4060, E-ISSN 1432-2056, Vol. 37, no 1, 111-122 p.Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

Food availability can impact group formation in Carnivora. Specifically, it has been suggested that temporal variation in food availability may allow a breeding pair to tolerate additional adults in their territory at times when food abundance is high. We investigate group occurrence and intraspecific tolerance during breeding in a socially flexible canid, the arctic fox (Vulpes lagopus). We compare Iceland and Sweden where resource conditions differ considerably. A breeding pair was the most common social unit in both populations, but as predicted, groups were more frequent where food abundance varied substantially between years (Sweden: 6 %) than where food availability was stable (Iceland: a parts per thousand currency sign2 %). Within Sweden, supplemental feeding increased group occurrence from 6 to 21 %, but there was no effect of natural variation in lemming (Lemmus lemmus) availability since group formation was rare also at lemming highs. Thus, additional factors appeared to influence the trade-off between intraspecific territoriality and tolerance. We report two cases where related females showed enduring social relationships with good-neighbour strategies. Related females also engaged in alloparental behaviour in a 'fox town' with 31 foxes (4 adults, 3 litters). In contrast, when unrelated foxes bred close to each other, they moved or split their litters during summer, presumably because of territorial conflict. We suggest that fluctuating food availability is linked to group formation in this Arctic carnivore, but also when food availability increases, additional factors such as relatedness, alloparental benefits, competition and predator defence appear necessary to explain group formation.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
2014. Vol. 37, no 1, 111-122 p.
Keyword [en]
Food availability, Social organisation, Resource dispersion, Canidae, Vulpes lagopus, Alopex lagopus
National Category
URN: urn:nbn:se:su:diva-99874DOI: 10.1007/s00300-013-1416-3ISI: 000328849600010OAI: diva2:690591


Funding agencies:

Icelandic Science Research Fund; Icelandic Ministry of the Environment; EU LIFE;   Swedish WWF; Fjallraven AB; Cronstedt Foundation; Swedish Research Council FORMAS; Ekoklim at Stockholm University 

Available from: 2014-01-24 Created: 2014-01-20 Last updated: 2014-10-13Bibliographically approved

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Noren, KarinAngerbjörn, Anders
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