Vertebrate diet decreases winter torpor use in a desert marsupial
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One of the energetic benefits of daily torpor over prolonged hibernation is that it enables animals to regularly forage and, therefore, replenish food reserves between bouts of torpor. However, little is known about the diet of predators undergoing torpor or whether differences in prey composition among individuals influence torpor characteristics. Here, we test the hypothesis that prey composition affects winter torpor use and patterns of a population of carnivorous marsupial, the brush-tailed mulgara (Dasycercus blythi), in the Great Sandy Desert, Australia. Mulgaras in the study population captured a wide range of prey including vertebrates (mammals, reptiles, birds), seven insect orders, spiders and centipedes. The proportion of vertebrates in the diet was negatively correlated with both frequency of torpor use and maximum bout duration. This variation in torpor use with diet can be explained by the higher energetic content of vertebrates as well as their larger size. Even assuming uniform intake of prey biomass among individuals, those that subsisted on an invertebrate-dominated diet during winter apparently suffered energetic shortages as a result of the scarcity of invertebrate taxa with high energy content (such as insect larvae). Our study is the first to demonstrate a link between diet composition and daily torpor use in a free-ranging mammal.