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Effects of food availability on the trophic niche of the hazel dormouse Muscardinus avellanarius

Citation

Goodwin, Cecily E. D. et al. (2020), Effects of food availability on the trophic niche of the hazel dormouse Muscardinus avellanarius, Dryad, Dataset, https://doi.org/10.5061/dryad.dbrv15dz4

Abstract

The scale at which variations in food availability affect the foraging habits of individual animals can determine how the distribution of food resources affects populations. For species of conservation concern, these factors can have important implications for the management of habitats, as spatial and temporal variations in resource availability influence the trophic ecology of both individuals and populations. The hazel dormouse Muscardinus avellanarius is a species with seasonal dietary shifts and limited ranging, and whose populations in Great Britain are exhibiting marked decline, despite conservation measures. We compared resource availability and variation in dormouse traits with their trophic characteristics, determined by stable isotope analysis of dormouse hair and of their putative food items. The trophic levels of individual dormice were associated with the abundance of invertebrates in the surrounding habitat and in the woodland as a whole. Assessment of dormouse dietary composition suggests that the proportions of invertebrates and of tree seeds and flowers in dormouse diets are affected by the abundance of food plants in the local habitat. This suggests that dormice can exploit both invertebrates and plants in proportion to their availability, and are variable in their predatory habits, in response to both the availability of invertebrates and plants. Dormouse populations exhibit a broader trophic niche in autumn than in spring, most likely a consequence of their consumption of foods derived from a wider variety of tree and shrub species. We found no relationship between isotope signatures or food availability and the body mass or torpor of individuals, or the status of populations. This may be because, on the sites we studied, dormice could adapt to different food availabilities without discernible individual and population effects. Dormice are opportunistic feeders, rather than specialists, making use of abundant food resources at a local scale. Habitat conservation for dormice, therefore, could benefit from establishing and maintaining habitats that increase the overall abundance and uniform distribution of both flower and fruit-bearing shrubs and trees and invertebrate populations, at a fine spatial scale.

Methods

Stable isotope analysis of hazel dormice and putative food items from woodlands in England.

Funding

Natural Environment Research Council

The Forestry Commission