Biogeographical patterns in the diet of an opportunistic predator: the red fox Vulpes vulpes in the Iberian Peninsula
- Biogeographical diversity is central to the trophic ecology of predators. Understanding the biogeographical trophic patterns of generalist predators, such as the red fox Vulpes vulpes, is particularly challenging because of their wide distributions, broad trophic spectra and high ecological plasticity, which often generate conflicts with humans.
- We reviewed 55 studies from the Iberian Peninsula concerning the diet of the red fox to describe its trophic patterns from a biogeographical perspective.
- We considered the frequency of occurrence of seven food groups and characterized each study site according to environmental variables. We tested relationships between geographical variables and each food group independently, and assessed the consumption of lagomorphs in relation to the other food groups. We also tested the relationships between trophic diversity, the main food groups, latitude and altitude, and finally investigated changes in the consumption of all food groups in relation to habitat type and seasonality.
- We found a latitudinal pattern in the diet of the red fox, which was characterized by a greater consumption of lagomorphs and invertebrates in southern areas, and a higher intake of small mammals and fruits/seeds in northern regions. Additionally, the consumption of invertebrates increased from east to west, while fruit/seed consumption increased from west to east. Consumption of lagomorphs decreased, and of small mammals increased, with altitude. Trophic diversity was not associated with geographical variables. The intake of lagomorphs and small mammals was greatest in Mediterranean scrub and forest, respectively. Reptiles and invertebrates were consumed mostly during summer; fruits/seeds in autumn.
- Iberian red foxes show variation in their feeding habits associated with environmental variables, which are in turn associated with the availability of their main prey. Foxes select rabbits where they are abundant, and feed on small mammals and fruits/seeds where lagomorphs are scarce.