Arctic Small Rodents Have Diverse Diets and Flexible Food Selection
AuthorSoininen, Eeva M; Ravolainen, Virve; Bråthen, Kari Anne; Yoccoz, Nigel; Gielly, Ludovic; Ims, Rolf Anker
The ecology of small rodent food selection is poorly understood, as mammalian herbivore food selection theory has mainly been developed by studying ungulates. Especially, the effect of food availability on food selection in natural habitats where a range of food items are available is unknown. We studied diets and selectivity of grey-sided voles (Myodes rufocanus) and tundra voles (Microtus oeconomus), key herbivores in European tundra ecosystems, using DNA metabarcoding, a novel method enabling taxonomically detailed diet studies. In order to cover the range of food availabilities present in the wild, we employed a large-scale study design for sampling data on food availability and vole diets. Both vole species had ingested a range of plant species and selected particularly forbs and grasses. Grey-sided voles also selected ericoid shrubs and tundra voles willows. Availability of a food item rarely affected its utilization directly, although seasonal changes of diets and selection suggest that these are positively correlated with availability. Moreover, diets and selectivity were affected by availability of alternative food items. These results show that the focal sub-arctic voles have diverse diets and flexible food preferences and rarely compensate low availability of a food item with increased searching effort. Diet diversity itself is likely to be an important trait and has previously been underrated owing to methodological constraints. We suggest that the roles of alternative food item availability and search time limitations for small rodent feeding ecology should be investigated.
PublisherPublic Library of Science (PLoS)
CitationPLoS ONE (2013), vol. 8(6): e68128
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