Variation in the feeding pattern of red foxes in relation to changes in anthropogenic resource availability in a rural habitat of western Poland
Abstract The feeding pattern of red foxes Vulpes vulpes , i.e., the composition of their diet and dietary responses to fluctuations in the abundance of common voles Microtus arvalis were compared in the periods before and after the limitation of anthropogenic food availability in a rural area in western Poland. During the winter seasons of 1996/97–2014/15, the diet of the foxes was estimated by analysing the stomach contents of individuals shot from November to March and the index of vole abundance was obtained by counting their burrow entrances. The major component of the fox diet over the entire study period was anthropogenic food (mainly, the remains of farm animals) that showed both the highest average proportion in the stomach content volume (53.4%) and the highest average frequency of occurrence in the stomachs (62.7%), whereas small mammals were the second important component (27.5% and 54.2%, respectively). The frequency of anthropogenic food decreased and the frequencies of wild ungulate carrion and other wild vertebrates (mainly birds) increased after the limitation of anthropogenic resources. The observed fluctuations in the index of vole abundance resulted in positive changes in the small mammal frequency and negative changes in the anthropogenic food frequency, but the course of these relationships did not significantly differ between the two periods. The frequency of hares in fox stomachs did not change significantly between these periods, but recently the occurrence of hares in the diet of foxes increased with vole abundance. This study indicated that the reduction of anthropogenic food availability for carnivorous mammals may result in their switching to other prey species and potentially may have a negative influence on the demography of such prey species.
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