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Ecological traits and the spatial structure of competitive coexistence among carnivores

Citation

Monterroso, Pedro et al. (2021), Ecological traits and the spatial structure of competitive coexistence among carnivores, Dryad, Dataset, https://doi.org/10.5061/dryad.59zw3r247

Abstract

Competition is a widespread interaction among carnivores, ultimately manifested through one or more dimensions of the species’ ecological niche. One of the most explicit manifestations of competitive interactions regards spatial displacement. Its interpretation under a theoretical context provides an important tool to deepen our understanding of biological systems and communities, but also for wildlife management and conservation. We used Bayesian multi-species occupancy models on camera trapping data from multiple sites in Southwestern Europe (SWE) to investigate competitive interactions within a carnivore guild, and to evaluate how species' ecological traits are shaping coexistence patterns. Seventeen out of 26 pairwise interactions departed from a hypothesis of independent occurrence, with spatial association being twice as frequent as avoidance. Association behaviours were only detected among mesocarnivores, while avoidance mainly involved mesocarnivores avoiding the apex predator (n=4) and mesocarnivore-only interactions (n=2). Body mass ratios, defined as the dominant over the subordinate species body mass, revealed an important negative effect (β ̂=-0.38 [〖CI〗_95=-0.81,-0.06]) on co-occurrence probability, and support that spatially-explicit competitive interactions are mostly expressed by larger species able to dominate over smaller ones, with a threshold in body mass ratios of ca. 4, above which local-scale intraguild coexistence is unlikely. We found a weak relationship between pairwise trophic niche overlap and the probability of coexistence (β ̂=-0.19 [〖CI〗_95=-0.58,0.21]), suggesting that competition for feeding resources may not be a key driver of competition, at least at the scale of our analysis. Despite local-scale avoidance, regional-scale coexistence appears to be maintained by the spatial structuring of the competitive environment. We provide evidence that SWE ecosystems consist of spatially-structured competitive environments, and propose that coexistence among near-sized species is likely achieved through the interplay of “facultative” and “behavioral” character displacements. Factors influencing carnivore coexistence likely include context-dependent density and trait mediated-effects, which should be carefully considered for a sound understanding of the mechanisms regulating these communities.