In response to foraging for foods that fluctuate in availability, generalists often exhibit the ability to switch between different food sources. Many of the Carnivora on an omnivorous–frugivorous diet display temporal dietary switching and specialism, but the mechanisms underlying this are incompletely understood. Here we studied the diet of the opportunistically frugivorous yellow-throated marten (Martes flavigula) with regard to food-resource exploitation in a subtropical forest of central China. Diet was determined through scat analyses combined with surveys to estimate local food abundance. Peak fruit consumption and the lowest utilization of small mammals occurred when fruit abundance reached its temporal maximum in the environment in synchrony with a concomitant peak in small mammal abundance. When both fruits and small mammals were least abundant in the environment, the marten's diet shifted to the maximum utilization of small mammals with no fruit consumption. This dietary switching could not be explained by the fluctuation in the abundance of principal prey in the environment, that is, small mammals, but by the ease of procurement of fruit at peak fruiting season. The marten's diet thus does not simply reflect primary resource abundance but is a function of the relative abundance and inferred availability of alternative food types. This case study of the yellow-throated marten provides insight into foraging strategies that depend on the relative, temporal availability of food types, a phenomenon observed for other generalist omnivores (including several Carnivora).
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Vol. 92 • No. 3