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Feeding or Resting? The Strategy of Rutting Male Alpine Chamois


Christian Willisch, Eco-ethology, Zoological Institute, University of Neuchâtel, Emile-Argand 11, CH-2007 Neuchâtel, Switzerland.


Optimal foraging theory suggests that animals normally maximize energy intake to optimize their energy balance. However, when efficiency to assimilate energy falls below the level necessary to ascertain basal energetic requirements, they should shift to an energy saving strategy. Males of many ruminant species considerably reduce their food intake during the rut. Nevertheless, they are commonly assumed to maximize energy intake besides their investments in rutting activities. Based on predictions of optimal foraging theory and the specific ruminant digestive physiology, we propose, however, that rutting males in polygynous species with time consuming mating tactics should instead use an energy saving strategy. Particularly, we predict this to be the case in Alpine chamois (Rupicapra rupicapra rupicapra), a highly polygynous mountain ungulate, of which the males defend mating territories during the rut. By combining observational and telemetry data of eight radio-collared males we constructed individual 24-h time budgets, and compared the behavior of males before, during and after the rut. Males spent significantly less time feeding during the rut (0.9 h) compared with before (8.5 h) and afterwards (6.4 and 7.5 h, respectively), whereas time spent lying remained more or less unchanged (pre-rut; 12.7 h, rut; 13.3 h, post-rut; 12.9 and 13.9 h, respectively). The ratio of time spent feeding to lying dropped from 0.67 in the pre-rut period to 0.05 in the rutting period. As a result, males allocated on average approx. 90% of their non-rutting time to lying, and a negative relationship between rutting and lying time emerged. Hence, males seemed to trade lying time against rutting time. We conclude from these results that male Alpine chamois do not maximize their energy intake during the rut, but rather adopt an energy saving strategy to optimize their energy balance.