Many mammals create food stores to enhance overwinter survival in seasonal environments. Strategic arrangement of food within caches may facilitate the physical integrity of the cache or improve access to high-quality food to ensure that cached resources meet future nutritional demands. We used the American pika (Ochotona princeps), a food-caching lagomorph, to evaluate variation in haypile (cache) structure (i.e., horizontal layering by plant functional group) in Wyoming, United States. Fifty-five percent of 62 haypiles contained at least 2 discrete layers of vegetation. Adults and juveniles layered haypiles in similar proportions. The probability of layering increased with haypile volume, but not haypile number per individual or nearby forage diversity. Vegetation cached in layered haypiles was also higher in nitrogen compared to vegetation in unlayered piles. We found that American pikas frequently structured their food caches, structured caches were larger, and the cached vegetation in structured piles was of higher nutritional quality. Improving access to stable, high-quality vegetation in haypiles, a critical overwinter food resource, may allow individuals to better persist amidst harsh conditions.
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Vol. 98 • No. 6