Temperature and Cloud Cover, but Not Predator Urine, Affect Winter Foraging of Mice


John Orrock, Department of Biology, Washington University, St. Louis, Missouri 63130.
E-mail: orrock@wustl.edu


Although homeotherms likely experience costs of both predation risk and thermoregulation while foraging, it is unclear how foragers contend with these costs. We used foraging trays placed in sheltered microsites to determine whether temperature, a direct cue of predator presence (predator urine) and an indirect cue of predation risk (cloudy nights) affect foraging of white-footed mice, Peromyscus leucopus, in winter. Mice were presented with urine from bobcats, Lynx rufus, red foxes, Vulpes vulpes, and coyotes, Canis latrans, an herbivore (whitetailed deer, Odocoileus virginianus), and a water control. To measure rodent foraging, we used seeds of millet mixed with sand to quantify giving-up densities (the number of seeds left in each foraging tray). Giving-up density was not affected by predator urine. Rather, rodent foraging was affected by an interaction of temperature and weather. On overcast nights, when predation risk was likely lower, mice foraged more when soil temperature was higher, presumably reducing thermoregulatory costs. On clear nights, foraging was low regardless of soil temperature, presumably because foraging was more risky. These results suggest that mice consider thermoregulatory costs and predation risk when making foraging decisions, and that the indirect cue afforded by weather, rather than the direct cue of predator urine, is among the cues used to make foraging decisions. Moreover, these results suggest that sensitivity to a particular cue is likely to be context-dependent.