Bodil Elmhagen


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From monogamy to complexity: social organization of arctic foxes (Vulpes lagopus) in contrasting ecosystems.

Canids display pronounced intraspecific variation in social organization, ranging from single breeding females to large and complex groups. Despite several hypotheses in this matter, little is understood about the ecological factors underlying this flexibility. We have used the arctic fox (Vulpes lagopus (L., 1758)) to investigate how contrasting ecosystem conditions concerning resources and predation influence group formation. We predicted that complex groups are more common in resource-rich ecosystems with predators, whereas simple groups occur in more marginal ecosystems without predators. Samples from 54 groups were collected from four populations of arctic foxes with contrasting prey resources and predation and these samples were genotyped in 10 microsatellite loci. We found considerable variation between ecosystems and a significant relationship between resources and formation of complex groups. We conclude that sufficient amounts of food is a prerequisite for forming complex groups, but that defense against predation further increases the benefits of living in larger groups. We present a conceptual model suggesting that a trade-off between the cost of resource depletion and the benefits obtained for guarding against predators explain the differences in social organization. The variable ecology of the arctic foxes makes it is a plausible model species for understanding the connection between ecology and social organization also in other species.

Norén K, Hersteinsson P, Samelius G, Eide NE, Fuglei E, Elmhagen B, Dalén L, Meijer T, Angerbjörn A (2012) From monogamy to complexity: social organization of arctic foxes (Vulpes lagopus) in contrasting ecosystems. Canadian Journal of Zoology 90: 1102-1116.




Arctic fox searching for food along the Icelandic coast, a habitat of intermediate resource availability

Arctic fox in the Swedish mountain tundra, where resource availability varies from low to high with the small rodent cycle.