Food quality and consumer home range size

Food varies in its quality over space and time. Animals, faced with this variability in their source of nourishment, may adjust the way they use space to increase their access to high-quality food. I am using predictions of food carbon, nitrogen, and phosphorus content and relocation data snowshoe hares to test whether variation in food quality over space influences home range size of this small herbivore. My co-authors and I used an innovative nutrient distribution model to generate predictions of plant content of key nutrients over the area occupied by our snowshoe hare. We then used linear models to investigate if mean resource quality, or the variability around the mean, can predict home range size. We found that home range size is strongly dependent on the plants’ relative content of certain elements, like nitrogen. Our results have strong implications for studies of animals’ spatial ecology, as well as for models of ecosystem trophic pathways and conservation and management policies.

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