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Selective foraging on woody plant species by the Eurasian beaver (Castor fiber) in Telemark, Norway


Frank Rosell, Faculty of Arts and Sciences, Department of Environmental and Health Studies, Telemark University College, N-3800 Bø i Telemark, Norway. Tel: + 47-35 95 27 62; Fax: + 47-35 95 27 03


Beavers Castor spp. are generalist herbivores, feeding on the bark, shoots and leaves of woody plants, terrestrial herbs and forbs, ferns and aquatic vegetation. As central-place foragers, beavers move out from water to select and cut trees and vegetation, and then transport it back to their refuge. These terrestrial forays are energetically costly; therefore, beavers should concentrate their foraging activity near the central place and increase the degree of selectivity for specific sizes or species of food with increasing distance from the water. The aim of this study was to test the predictions of the central place and the optimal foraging theories for the food selection of the Eurasian beaver Castor fiber, and show the foraging preferences of the focal species in the boreal conifer forest zone of Europe. Foraging intensity by beavers and the abundance of woody species were surveyed in transects positioned randomly at seven beaver territories. In compliance with the central-place foraging theory, the foraging intensity declined with increasing distance from the river. Beavers fed preferentially on willows (Salix), rowan (Sorbus) and birches (Betula), although alders (Alnus) dominated their diet. Size selectivity showed similar patterns to previous North American studies, which were also carried out in habitats with predominantly small saplings. The probability of selection of small saplings dropped as distance increased, which is consistent with the predictions of optimal foraging models that larger prey items are more likely to be favoured with increasing provisioning distance.