Winter severity modulates the benefits of using a habitat temporally uncoupled from browsing

Authors: Giroux, Marie-Andrée; Dussault, Christian; Tremblay, Jean-PierreCôté, Steeve D.
Abstract: Resources whose abundance is not affected by the density of the consumer population, namely donor-controlled resources, are ubiquitous. Donor-controlled resources can act as food subsidies when they sustain consumer populations at higher densities than what would be predicted without donorcontrolled dynamics. Herbivore populations that have access to food subsidies may reach and maintain high densities, with potential major ecological and economic consequences. A better understanding of the roles of food subsidies on temperate herbivores will likely be achieved by simultaneously taking into account other drivers of demographic variations such as winter severity. Here, we tested the hypothesis that the use of a donor-controlled food resource that may act as a food subsidy, namely balsam fir (Abies balsamea), and winter severity act together to shape the patterns of overwinter mass loss in a large herbivore population (white-tailed deer, Odocoileus virginianus). We monitored weather conditions, diet, habitat use, and mass loss of female deer during two highly contrasted winters. During an exceptionally milder winter, characterized by shallower snow depth and warmer windchill temperatures, female deer shifted their diet toward resources usually covered by snow during typical winters. Surprisingly, the rate of body mass loss remained similar during the milder and the harsher winter. The rate of body mass loss rather decreased with the use of balsam fir stands during the harsher winter, but increased with that same variable during the milder winter. Our study revealed that deer can alleviate overwinter mass loss by using a donor-controlled habitat type temporally uncoupled from browsing, but that this benefit is climate dependent. This study represents an additional step to address the largely unexplored concept of how temporal uncoupling between resources and consumer dynamics may contribute to sustain consumer populations at higher densities than predicted without considering donor-controlled dynamics.
Document Type: Article de recherche
Issue Date: 30 August 2016
Open Access Date: 19 April 2017
Document version: VoR
Permalink: http://hdl.handle.net/20.500.11794/13710
This document was published in: Ecosphere, Vol. 7 (8), (2016)
https://doi.org/10.1002/ecs2.1432
Ecological Society of America
Alternative version: 10.1002/ecs2.1432
Collection:Articles publiés dans des revues avec comité de lecture

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