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Seasonal variation in the strength of interference competition among headwater stream predators


Cecala, Kristen et al. (2021), Seasonal variation in the strength of interference competition among headwater stream predators, Dryad, Dataset,


1. Vertebrate communities in headwater streams are assumed to be regulated through competitive and predatory interactions. Although documented predation is rare, studies regularly report competitive dominance by fish that, as larger competitors reliant on aquatic habitat, exclude semi-aquatic salamanders to marginal stream habitat. However, it is unclear whether fish interact with stream-breeding salamanders through indirect effects such as, competition for resources (e.g., food or cover) or fear (i.e., threat of predation) nor is it known whether these interactions are consistent through time.

2. This study used a novel caging approach to determine if competitive outcomes between a headwater fish and salamanders were regulated primarily through resource depletion (exploitative competition) or behavioural avoidance (interference competition).

3. We paired banded sculpin (Cottus carolinae) and larval red salamanders (Pseudotriton ruber) of similar body size in independent flow through mesocosms with intra- and inter-specific pairs allowed to interact physically or non-physically. The experiment was repeated in the fall and in the spring when stream salamander larvae begin to transform into terrestrial juveniles.

4. Banded sculpin negatively influenced growth of red salamanders regardless of whether they were allowed to physically interact, suggesting interference competition and behavioural avoidance. This asymmetrical effect was strongest in the spring when salamanders underwent metamorphosis at higher rates in the presence of fish. However, in the fall, the effects were more balanced between the two species with salamanders impacting fish through exploitative competition.

5. By studying the temporal relationships between two competitors and using a caging method novel to competition studies, we established that the outcomes of competition are dependent on season and may vary in type relative to the timing of life history events. For this community, these results suggest that outcomes of competition are highly dependent on season and could indicate a biotic mechanism maintaining headwater salamander distributions through source-sink dynamics. Our results also suggest that, in this species interaction, it may be unwarranted to assume that the outcomes of competition at one time represent the complex relationships regulating community interactions.


AZFA Clark Waldram Fund.