Examination of the state-dependency and consequences of foraging in a low-energy system, the Gila monster, Heloderma suspectum
Foraging has complex effects on whole-organism homeostasis, and there is considerable evidence that foraging behavior is influenced by both environmental factors (e.g., food availability, predation risk) and the physiological condition of an organism. The optimization of foraging behavior to balance costs and benefits is termed state-dependent foraging (SDF) while behavior that seeks to protect assets of fitness is termed the asset protection principle (APP). A majority of studies examining SDF have focused on the role that energy balance has on the foraging of organisms with high metabolism and high energy demands ("high-energy systems" such as endotherms). In contrast, limited work has examined whether species with low energy use ("low-energy systems" such as vertebrate ectotherms) use an SDF strategy. Additionally, there is a paucity of evidence demonstrating how physiological and environmental factors other than energy balance influence foraging behavior (e.g. hydration state and free-standing water availability). Given these gaps in our understanding of SDF behavior and the APP, I examined the state-dependency and consequences of foraging in a low-energy system occupying a resource-limited environment - the Gila monster (Heloderma suspectum, Cope 1869). In contrast to what has been observed in a wide variety of taxa, I found that Gila monsters do not use a SDF strategy to manage their energy reserves and that Gila monsters do not defend their energetic assets. However, hydration state and free-standing water availability do affect foraging behavior of Gila monsters. Additionally, as Gila monsters become increasingly dehydrated, they reduce activity to defend hydration state. The SDF behavior of Gila monsters appears to be largely driven by the fact that Gila monsters must separately satisfy energy and water demands with food and free-standing water, respectively, in conjunction with the timescale within which Gila monsters balance their energy and water budgets (supra-annually versus annually, respectively). Given these findings, the impact of anticipated changes in temperature and rainfall patterns in the Sonoran Desert are most likely going to pose their greatest risks to Gila monsters through the direct and indirect effects on water balance.