Habitat selection reveals state-dependent foraging trade-offs in a temporally autocorrelated environment

In: Israel Journal of Ecology and Evolution
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  • 1 Department of Biology, Lakehead University
  • | 2 Department of Biology, Lakehead University

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We use theories of risk allocation to inform trade-offs between foraging in a rich and risky habitat versus using a poor but safe alternative. Recent advances in the theory predict that the length of exposure to good or bad conditions governs risk allocation, and thus habitat choice, when patterns of environmental risk are autocorrelated in time. We investigate the effects of these factors with controlled experiments on a small soil arthropod (Folsomia candida). We subjected animals to nine temporally autocorrelated 16-day feeding treatments varying in both the proportion (0.25, 0.50, and 0.75) and duration (short, medium and long intervals) of time when food was present and absent. We assessed foraging trade-offs by the animals' choice of occupying a risky dry habitat with food (rich) versus a safe moist habitat with no food (poor). Irrespective of autocorrelation in conditions, the proportion of time spent with no food primarily determined habitat selection by these collembolans. Our results imply an energetic threshold below which F. candida are forced to forage in rich and risky habitat despite the possibility of mortality through desiccation. The link to energetic thresholds suggests the possibility of employing state-dependent habitat selection as a leading indicator of habitat change.

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