Patch use in the arctic ground squirrel: effects of micro-topography and shrub encroachment in the Arctic Circle
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We investigated the roles of vegetation structure, micro-topographic relief, and predator activity patterns (time of day) on the perception of predatory risk of arctic ground squirrels (Urocitellus parryii), an abundant pan-Arctic omnivore, in Arctic Circle tundra on the North Slope of Alaska, where tundra vegetation structure has been predicted to change in response to climate. We quantified foraging intensity by measuring the giving-up densities (GUDs) of the arctic ground squirrels in experimental foraging patches along a heath–graminoid–shrub moist tundra gradient. We hypothesized that foraging intensity of arctic ground squirrels would be greatest and GUDs lowest, where low-stature vegetation or raised micro-topography improves sightlines for predator detection. Furthermore, GUDs should vary with time of day and reflect 24-h cycles of varying predation risk. Foraging intensity varied temporally, being highest in the afternoon and lowest overnight. During the morning, foraging intensity was inversely correlated with the normalized difference vegetation index (NDVI), a proxy for vegetation productivity and cover. Foraging was additionally measured within landscapes of fear, confirming that vegetative and topographic obstructions of sightlines reduces foraging intensity and increases GUDs. We conclude that arctic ground squirrels may affect Arctic Circle vegetation of tundra ecosystems, but these effects will vary spatially and temporally.
KeywordsArctic ground squirrel; Climate change; Giving-up densities; Ecosystem impacts; Foraging; Landscape of fear; NDVI; Tundra
Flower, Charles E.; Dalton, Jennifer E.; Whelan, Christopher J.; Brown, Joel S.; Gonzalez-Meler, Miquel A. 2019. Patch use in the arctic ground squirrel: effects of micro-topography and shrub encroachment in the Arctic Circle. Oecologia. 190(1): 243-254. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00442-019-04400-5.