Diet complexity in early life affects survival in released pheasants by altering foraging efficiency, food choice, handling skills, and gut morphology
Madden, Joah Robert
Journal of Animal Ecology
This is the peer reviewed version of the following article: Whiteside, M. A., Sage, R., Madden, J. R. (2015), Diet complexity in early life affects survival in released pheasants by altering foraging efficiency, food choice, handling skills and gut morphology. Journal of Animal Ecology. doi: 10.1111/1365-2656.12401, which has been published in final form at http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/1365-2656.12401/abstract;jsessionid=9438E3D72C3C3D1D29BA40447FB3924D.f02t02 . This article may be used for non-commercial purposes in accordance with Wiley Terms and Conditions for Self-Archiving.
Reason for embargo
1. Behavioural and physiological deficiencies are major reasons why reintroduction programs suffer from high mortality when captive animals are used. Mitigation of these deficiencies is essential for successful reintroduction programs. 2. Our study manipulated early developmental diet to better replicate foraging behaviour in the wild. Over two years we hand-reared 1800 pheasants (Phasianus colchicus), from one day old, for seven weeks under different dietary conditions. In year one, 900 pheasants were divided into three groups and reared with (i) commercial chick crumb, (ii) crumb plus 1% live mealworm or (iii) crumb plus 5% mixed seed and fruit. In year two, a further 900 pheasants were divided into two groups and reared with (i) commercial chick crumb or (ii) crumb plus a combination of 1% mealworm and 5% mixed seed and fruit. In both years the commercial chick crumb acted as a control treatment, whilst those with live prey and mixed seeds and fruits mimicking a more naturalistic diet. After seven weeks reared on these diets pheasants were released into the wild. 3. Post release survival was improved with exposure to more naturalistic diets prior to release. We identified four mechanisms to explain this. Pheasants reared with more naturalistic diets: 1) foraged for less time and had a higher likelihood of performing vigilance behaviours; 2) were quicker at handling live prey items; 3) were less reliant on supplementary feed which could be withdrawn; 4) developed different gut morphology. 4. These mechanisms allowed the pheasants to: 1) reduce the risk of predation by reducing exposure time whilst foraging, while allowing more time to be vigilant; 2) be better at handling and discriminating natural food items, and not be solely reliant on supplementary feed; 3) have a better gut system to cope with the natural forage after the cessation of supplementary feeding in the spring. 5. Learning food discrimination, preference and handling skills by the provision of a more naturalistic diet is essential prior to the release of pheasants in a reintroduction program. Subsequent diet, foraging behaviour, gut morphology and digestive capabilities all work together as one nutritional complex. Simple manipulations during early development can influence these characteristics to better prepare an individual for survival upon release.
Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust
ERC Consolidator Award
University of Exeter
Copyright © 2015 The Authors. Journal of Animal Ecology © 2015 British Ecological Society
Vol. 84 (6), pp. 1480–1489