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PLoS One. 2012;7(11):e49719. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0049719. Epub 2012 Nov 16.

A new way of assessing foraging behaviour at the individual level using faeces marking and satellite telemetry.

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  • 1NSERC-Produits Forestiers Anticosti Industrial Research Chair, Département de Biologie and Centre d'Études Nordiques, Université Laval, Québec, Québec, Canada. marie-andree.giroux.1@ulaval.ca


Heterogeneity in foraging behaviour can profoundly influence ecological processes shaping populations. To scale-up from individual foraging behaviour to processes occurring at the population scale, one needs to sample foraging behaviour at the individual level, and over large temporal scales or during critical seasons known to influence life-history traits. We developed an innovative technique to monitor foraging behaviour at the individual level in secretive species, a technique that can be ultimately used to investigate the links between foraging behaviour and life-history traits. First, the technique used a novel approach, namely the combination of telemetry tracking and biomarking of faeces with food dyes to locate fresh signs of presence left by individuals equipped with GPS collars. Second, the technique is based on the simultaneous or successive sampling of life-history traits and individual foraging behaviour, using tracks with high probabilities of recovery of dyed faeces. We first describe our methodological approach, using a case study of a large herbivore, and then provide recommendations and guidelines for its use. Sampling single snow tracks of individuals equipped with a GPS collar was a reliable way to assess individual winter foraging behaviour in a white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus Zimmermann) population. During that period, the probability of recovery of dyed faeces within the range of the collar precision was very high for single snow tracks of equipped deer (97%). Our approach is well suited to study individual foraging behaviour, and could ultimately be used to investigate the interplay between intra-population heterogeneity in foraging behaviour, life-history traits, and demographic processes.

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