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An experimental approach to the formation of diet preferences and individual specialisation in European mink
Stockholm University, Faculty of Science, Department of Zoology.ORCID iD: 0000-0001-8768-3980
Stockholm University, Faculty of Science, Department of Zoology.
Stockholm University, Faculty of Science, Department of Zoology.
2017 (English)In: European Journal of Wildlife Research, ISSN 1612-4642, E-ISSN 1439-0574, Vol. 63, no 2, 1-8 p., 34Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

Individual dietary specialisation can occur within populations even when average diets suggest that the population has a generalist feeding strategy. Individual specialisation may impact fitness and has been related to demographic traits, ecological opportunity, competition, learning and animal personality. However, the causation and formation of individual specialisation are not fully understood. Experiments on animals raised in controlled environments provide an opportunity to examine dietary preferences and learning largely independent from variation in lifetime experiences and ecological opportunity. Here, we use a feeding experiment to examine individual specialisation and learning in captive bred European mink (Mustela lutreola) in an Estonian conservation programme. In a series of cafeteria experiments, animals could choose between one familiar food item (Baltic herring Clupea harengus membras) and two initially novel ones (noble crayfish Astacus astacus and house mouse Mus musculus). In general, mice were rarely eaten whilst crayfish consumption increased over time and fish decreased. At the individual level, there was a mix of generalists and crayfish or fish specialists, and the individuals differed in learning time in relation to novel prey. Our results indicate that individual variation in innate preferences and learning both contributes to individual diet specialisation. The differences in learning indicate individual variation in behavioural plasticity, which in turn can be related to personality. This could be of concern in conservation, as personality has been shown to affect survival in translocations.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
2017. Vol. 63, no 2, 1-8 p., 34
National Category
Ecology
Research subject
Animal Ecology
Identifiers
URN: urn:nbn:se:su:diva-129438DOI: 10.1007/s10344-017-1091-8ISI: 000400097400003OAI: oai:DiVA.org:su-129438DiVA: diva2:922307
Available from: 2016-04-22 Created: 2016-04-22 Last updated: 2017-05-26Bibliographically approved
In thesis
1. Conservation, personality and ecology of the European mink (Mustela lutreola)
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Conservation, personality and ecology of the European mink (Mustela lutreola)
2016 (English)Doctoral thesis, comprehensive summary (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

Loss of biodiversity is a growing problem and hence conservation of species is becoming increasingly important. In this dissertation conservation issues related to the critically endangered European mink (Mustela lutreola) are examined in situ (in the wild) and ex situ (in captivity) on both an individual and community level. It also contains fundamental research as conservation contexts often allow for conclusions beyond applied biology. Individual behavioural differences, e.g. personality, can impact fitness and are hence relevant for conservation. Paper I thus experimentally explores the structure, expression and plasticity of personality in captive European minks. Thereafter paper II investigates if personality affects survival of reintroduced captive-bred animals and if spatiotemporal conditions affects the relationship between personality and survival. Paper III experimentally explores individual dietary specialism and learning in relation to novel prey as this could also impact survival. One of the main threats to the European mink is displacement by the invasive American mink (Neovison vison) wherefore management of American mink is important for European mink conservation. Paper IV hence analyses survey data to study whether native otters and red foxes can suppress American mink populations in north-eastern Europe. In the results three personality trait domains were identified in the European mink: boldness, exploration and sociability. The domains were repeatable but plastic between the non-breeding and breeding season. Reintroduced personality-tested animals survived longer if they were bolder but the effect of exploration was either positive or negative depending on spatiotemporal conditions. This is not only interesting for conservation but provides new insights on how individual behavioural differences could be maintained over evolutionary time. Whilst exploration is likely to be maintained by fluctuating selection pressures, the mechanism seem to vary with domain. The feeding experiments revealed diet choices similar to those found in wild individuals as there were both generalists and different types of specialists. Still, individuals differed in learning time towards novel but natural prey, suggesting that reintroduced animals might differ in their ability to find food after release. This could affect survival also and be related to personality. Survey data revealed that American mink abundances were suppressed by those of red foxes. Previous studies show that foxes are suppressed by lynx, and the abundance pattern of mink in relation to red fox found here indicate the existence of a predator cascade as mink were most abundant where lynx were abundant and vice versa. In several regions in the study area population dynamics indicated either exploitation or interference competition as probable mechanisms whereby foxes suppress minks. However, in many regions there were no relationships between dynamics. This could be due to that exploitation and interference competition might occur simultaneously and thus cancel each other out in the dynamics. Overall this thesis shows the importance of considering individual traits in conservation efforts, and also provides knowledge on the structure, plasticity and evolution of personality. As American mink was suppressed by foxes, management efforts might be most beneficial for species impacted by the mink if they to a larger extent are undertaken in areas with low fox abundances.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Stockholm: Department of Zoology, Stockholm University, 2016. 40 p.
Keyword
European mink, Mustela lutreola, Conservation, Personality, Individual specialism, Diet, American mink, Neovison vison, Intraguild competition
National Category
Ecology
Research subject
Animal Ecology
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:su:diva-129973 (URN)978-91-7649-420-2 (ISBN)
Public defence
2016-06-15, Vivi Täckholm-salen, NPQ-huset, Svante Arrhenius väg 20, Stockholm, 10:00 (English)
Opponent
Supervisors
Note

At the time of the doctoral defense, the following papers were unpublished and had a status as follows: Paper 2: Submitted. Paper 3: Submitted. Paper 4: Manuscript.

Available from: 2016-05-23 Created: 2016-05-08 Last updated: 2017-02-17Bibliographically approved

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