Great Basin Naturalist


Ecological and phytochemical factors potentially affecting winter dietary discrimination by porcupines (Erethizon dorsatum) in the mountain brush zone of Utah were studied. Porcupines utilized gambel oak (Quercus gambelii) as their primary winter food and roosting resource. Big-tooth maple (Acer grandidentatum) was the most common tree species in the study area but was rarely utilized by porcupines. Conifer species were used as a food and roosting resource significantly less often than they occurred in the study area, despite thermal advantages provided by their relatively dense canopies. Oak feed trees were successfully separated from conifer feed trees by discriminant analysis 100% of the time. Oak trees were correctly classified as feed and nonfeed trees 71% of the time. Gambel oak contained higher amounts of crude protein, fiber, and tannins, but was lower in either extract fractions and fatty acid content than conifers. A layer of adipose tissue used as an energy reserve by porcupines may have relaxed energy intake demands sufficiently to permit them to concentrate on a diet of oak tissue, which is high in protein, rather than a high-fat conifer diet. A diet relatively high in protein may have facilitated digestion of food material high in fiber. Temperature did not affect selection of tree species for roosting. Rock and snow caves were utilized infrequently and the study population ranged widely. Three of 15 study animals were eaten by predators.