Nutrition Integrates Environmental Responses of Ungulates

Katherine Parker
Perry Barboza
Michael Gillingham
Resource Date:

1. Nutrition influences most aspects of animal ecology: juvenile growth rates and adult mass gain, body condition, probability of pregnancy, over-winter survival, timing of parturition, and neonatal birth mass and survival. We provide an overview among ungulates of the extent of these influences resulting from interactions among bioenergetics, foraging, and nutritional demands.

2. Body condition of an animal is the integrator of nutritional intake and demands, affecting both survival and reproduction. The deposition and mobilization of body fat and body protein vary with physiological requirements and environmental conditions as species use dietary income and body stores to integrate the profits of summer and the demands of winter. Results from our simulation model and uncertainty analysis of the influence of body mass and changes in body composition of Rangifer over winter indicate that percent body fat rather than body mass in early winter is most important in determining whether animals die, live without reproducing, or live and reproduce. Animal responses are also sensitive to rates of change in body protein. Depending on timing of calving and maternal reserves, seasonal habitats vary in their nutritional value for the production of offspring.

3. For free-ranging animals, life is a balance among numerous ecological factors, including nutritional requirements, nutritional resources to meet those demands, and intra- and inter-specific interactions. Predation effects on population demography may mask nutritional limitations of habitat. We suggest that over the long term of life histories, ungulates use seasonal strategies that minimize the maximum detriment, and that the basis for most strategies is nutritional.