Individual foraging specialisation in a social mammal: the European badger (Meles meles)

Andrew Robertson, Robbie A McDonald, Richard J Delahay, Simon D Kelly, Stuart Bearhop

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

37 Citations (Scopus)


Individual specialisation has been identified in an increasing number of animal species and populations. However, in some groups, such as terrestrial mammals, it is difficult to disentangle individual niche variation from spatial variation in resource availability. In the present study, we investigate individual variation in the foraging niche of the European badger (Meles meles), a social carnivore that lives in a shared group territory, but forages predominantly alone. Using stable isotope analysis, we distinguish the extent to which foraging variation in badgers is determined by social and spatial constraints and by individual differences within groups. We found a tendency for individual badgers within groups to differ markedly and consistently in their isotope values, suggesting that individuals living with access to the same resources occupied distinctive foraging niches. Although sex had a significant effect on isotope values, substantial variation within groups occurred independently of age and sex. Individual differences were consistent over a period of several months and in some instances were highly consistent across the two years of the study, suggesting long-term individual foraging specialisations. Individual specialisation in foraging may, therefore, persist in populations of territorial species not solely as a result of spatial variation in resources, but also arising from individuals selecting differently from the same available resources. Although the exact cause of this behaviour is unknown, we suggest that specialisation may occur due to learning trade-offs which may limit individual niche widths. However, ecological factors at the group level, such as competition, may also influence the degree of specialisation.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)409-421
Number of pages13
Issue number2
Early online date19 Jul 2014
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2014


  • Individual specialisation
  • Stable isotope analysis
  • Niche variation
  • Spatial heterogeneity
  • Foraging ecology

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