TitleReproductive den selection and its consequences for fisher neonates, a cavity-obligate mustelid
Publication TypeJournal
Year of Publication2019
AuthorsMatthews SM, Green DS, J. Higley M, Rennie KM, Kelsey CM, Green RE

Selection of habitat characteristics by reproductive females during neonate development can mediate the influence of adverse environmental conditions on the fitness of offspring. Previous research has suggested that cavities and burrows used for reproduction by cavity-obligate species offer thermoregulatory benefits, access to prey, and can limit predation pressure. As fishers (Pekania pennanti) are secondary cavity-obligate breeders, we hypothesized that they select particular characteristics of reproductive den cavities at discrete stages of offspring development to mediate adverse biotic and environmental effects on their neonates. To test our hypothesis, we located 406 reproductive dens and 154 cavity rest sites used by 65 individual adult female fishers during 11 reproductive seasons (2005–2016) in northwestern California. We counted 53 (27 F, 26 M) kits in 31 litters born to 19 females during six of these reproductive seasons. The weight of kits varied significantly by sex and by age, whereas the length of kits varied only by age, suggesting that adult females in this population might be preferentially investing in male kits. We found that natal and early-maternal dens buffered minimum temperatures significantly more than late-maternal dens and cavities used during the nonreproductive season. A male fisher skull was also less likely to fit through the cavity openings of natal dens than through the openings of cavities used by adult females during the nonreproductive season. Litter survival was significantly lower at natal dens than at late-maternal dens. The age of adult female fishers did not affect the probability of litter survival. Our results emphasize the vulnerability of vertebrate offspring during early developmental periods and how cavity-obligate species select cavities to mediate environmental conditions during reproduction.


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