Harsh climate selects for small body size among Iceland's Arctic foxes

Yoram Yom-Tov*, Pall Hersteinsson, Elad Yom-Tov, Eli Geffen

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

We studied the effect of the two environmental indices, the sub-polar gyre (SPG), and winter and summer North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO), together with mean annual winter and summer temperatures and geographic location on mandible size and body mass of Arctic foxes in Iceland (6345 and 2732 specimens, respectively) during the year of their death. We predicted that when favorable conditions prevailed, large specimens would be selected for, and vice versa. Body size and body mass were significantly affected by the environmental parameters (i.e. SPG, NAO, ambient temperature and cloud cover) prevailing during the year of death. The effect of environmental conditions on body size was much stronger in the less productive region of eastern Iceland, apparently because in areas where food availability is meager, even a small difference in climate may tilt the balance from food sufficiency to food shortage. Western Iceland comprises only a quarter of the total surface area of the country, but its productive seashores are twice as long as those of all the rest of the country combined. It is interesting to note that the effect of the SPG, a marine phenomenon in the oceans surrounding Iceland, is reflected in the condition of the foxes more than the other climatic variables we used in this study, which are largely land-related. Because Arctic foxes in Iceland feed largely on marine birds and invertebrates, the SPG seems to encompass more accurate information regarding the direct ocean forces that affect food availability to the foxes.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)376-383
Number of pages8
JournalEcography
Volume40
Issue number3
DOIs
StatePublished - 1 Mar 2017

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