Inferring condition in wild mammals: body condition indices confer no benefit over measuring body mass across ecological contexts Journal Article uri icon



  • AbstractMany studies assume that it is beneficial for individuals of a species to be heavier, or have a higher body condition index (BCI), without accounting for the physiological relevance of variation in the composition of different body tissues. We hypothesized that the relationship between BCI and masses of physiologically important tissues (fat and lean) would be conditional on annual patterns of energy acquisition and expenditure. We studied three species with contrasting ecologies in their respective natural ranges: an obligate hibernator (Columbian ground squirrel,Urocitellus columbianus), a facultative hibernator (black-tailed prairie dog,Cynomys ludovicianus), and a food-caching non-hibernator (North American red squirrel,Tamiasciurus hudsonicus). We measured fat and lean mass in adults of both sexes using quantitative magnetic resonance (QMR). We measured body mass and two measures of skeletal structure (zygomatic width and right hind foot length) to develop sex- and species-specific BCIs, and tested the utility of BCI to predict body composition in each species. Body condition indices were more consistently, and more strongly correlated, with lean mass than fat mass. The indices were most positively correlated with fat when fat was expected to be very high (pre-hibernation prairie dogs). In all cases, however, BCI was never better than body mass alone in predicting fat or lean mass. While the accuracy of BCI in estimating fat varied across the natural histories and annual energetic patterns of the species considered, measuring body mass alone was as effective, or superior in capturing sufficient variation in fat and lean in most cases.

publication date

  • February 3, 2023

has restriction

  • green

Date in CU Experts

  • February 15, 2023 1:52 AM

Full Author List

  • Wishart AE; Guerrero-Chac√≥n AL; Smith R; Hawkshaw DM; McAdam AG; Dantzer B; Boutin S; Lane JE

author count

  • 8

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