Dietary variation in Icelandic arctic fox (Vulpes lagopus) over a period of 30 years assessed through stable isotopes
AuthorCarbonell Ellgutter, Jennifer Alejandrina; Ehrich, Dorothee; Killengreen, Siw Turid; Ims, Rolf Anker; Unnsteinsdóttir, Ester Rut
Identifying resources driving long-term trends in predators is important to understand ecosystem changes and to manage populations in the context of conservation or control. The arctic fox population in Iceland has increased steadily over a period of 30 years, an increase that has been attributed to an overall increase in food abundance. We hypothesized that increasing populations of geese or seabirds were driving this growth. We analyzed stable isotopes in a long-term series of collagen samples to determine the role of these different resources. The isotopic signatures of arctic foxes differed consistently between coastal and inland habitats. While δ15N displayed a non-linear change over time with a slight increase in the first part of the period followed by a decline in both habitats, δ13C was stable. Stable isotope mixing models suggested that marine resources and rock ptarmigan were the most important dietary sources, with marine resources dominating in coastal habitats and rock ptarmigan being more important inland. Our results suggest that seabirds may have been driving the arctic fox population increase. The rapidly increasing populations of breeding geese seem to have played a minor role in arctic fox population growth, as rock ptarmigan was the most important terrestrial resource despite a considerable decrease in their abundance during recent decades. This study shows that a long-term population trend in a generalist predator may have occurred without a pronounced change in main dietary resources, despite ongoing structural changes in the food web, where one species of herbivorous birds increased and another decreased.
This is a pre-print of an article published in Oecologia. The final authenticated version is available online at: https://doi.org/10.1007/s00442-019-04580-0
CitationCarbonell Ellgutter JA, Ehrich D, Killengreen St, Ims RA, Unnsteinsdóttir ER. Dietary variation in Icelandic arctic fox (Vulpes lagopus) over a period of 30 years assessed through stable isotopes. Oecologia. 2019
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