We performed a field experiment to determine the effect of supplemental food provisioning on the cache-pilferage rates of a natural squirrel population in Central Arkansas. Provisioning, which is sometimes used to attract animals to a study site and/ or to induce foraging behavior, may increase the local food availability above what is normally found and may in itself have profound effects on behavior. To test the hypothesis that artificial provisioning inflates cache-pilferage rates, we tracked the pilferage rates of experimenter-made caches at field sites that had been either provisioned or not provisioned with supplemental food. We found that squirrels pilfered caches at a significantly higher rate when the site was provisioned (med = 34.8) compared to similar caches placed in non-provisioned plots (med = 27.9), a difference that is likely the consequence of increased squirrel density and foraging intensity at provisioned sites. Based on these results, we suggest that researchers include appropriate non-provisioned controls and be conservative in the interpretation of pilfering rates obtained from study sites with supplemental food.
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Vol. 12 • No. 3