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Research article2007Peer reviewedOpen access

Prolonging the arctic pulse: long-term exploitation of cached eggs by arctic foxes when lemmings are scarce

Samelius G, Alisauskas RT, Hobson KA, Lariviere S


1. Many ecosystems are characterized by pulses of dramatically higher than normal levels of foods (pulsed resources) to which animals often respond by caching foods for future use. However, the extent to which animals use cached foods and how this varies in relation to fluctuations in other foods is poorly understood in most animals. 2. Arctic foxes Alopex lagopus (L.) cache thousands of eggs annually at large goose colonies where eggs are often superabundant during the nesting period by geese. We estimated the contribution of cached eggs to arctic fox diets in spring and autumn, when geese were not present in the study area, by comparing stable isotope ratios (delta C-13 and delta N-15) of fox tissues with those of their foods using a multisource mixing model in Program IsoSource. 3. The contribution of cached eggs to arctic fox diets was inversely related to collared lemming Dicrostonyx groenlandicus (Traill) abundance; the contribution of cached eggs to overall fox diets increased from < 28% in years when collared lemmings were abundant to 30-74% in years when collared lemmings were scarce. 4. Further, arctic foxes used cached eggs well into the following spring (almost 1 year after eggs were acquired) - a pattern that differs from that of carnivores generally storing foods for only a few days before consumption. 5. This study showed that long-term use of eggs that were cached when geese were superabundant at the colony in summer varied with fluctuations in collared lemming abundance (a key component in arctic fox diets throughout most of their range) and suggests that cached eggs functioned as a buffer when collared lemmings were scarce

Published in

Journal of Animal Ecology
2007, Volume: 76, number: 5, pages: 873-880

      SLU Authors

    • Samelius, Gustaf

      • Department of Conservation Biology, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences

    UKÄ Subject classification

    Environmental Sciences related to Agriculture and Land-use

    Publication identifier


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