The State-Dependent Resource Allocation Hypothesis: Implications for the Foraging Ecology and Life History of Migratory Ungulates in the GYE
Understanding the behavioral and physiological responses of animals to environmental stressors is vital to our comprehension of their ecology and life history. The life-history strategy of ungulates is for females to prioritize survival over reproductive effort to maximize life-long fitness (Stearns 1992, Eberhardt 2002, BÃ¥rdsen et al. 2008). Consequently, an individualâs reproductive decisions are expected to be dependent on nutritional state (BÃ¥rdsen et al. 2008). Researchers have long assumed that individuals reduce their metabolism and energy expenditure to conserve nutritional reserves (i.e., fat and protein) during winter because winter has been demonstrated to be a period of energetic loss for temperate ungulates. Recent research, however, has shown that mule deer (Odocoileus hemionus) in a poor nutritional state are capable of increasing their nutritional reserves over winter (Monteith et al. 2013), and hormone analysis of moose (Alces alces; Jesmer et al. in review) indicates that animals with low nutritional reserves have high energy expenditure and energy intake. Therefore, regulation of nutritional state through plasticity in foraging behavior may allow animals to cope with resource shortages. We refer to this notion, wherein animals alter their energy intake and expenditure via foraging behavior as the State-Dependent Resource Allocation Hypothesis (Figure 1). In 2014 we proposed to apply state-of-the-art nutritional, isotopic, and hormone analyses to test the State-Dependent Resource Allocation Hypothesis (SRAH) in migratory mule deer within the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem.