Title

Apex Predators and the Facilitation of Resource Partitioning Among Mesopredators

Document Type

Article

Publication Date

4-2018

Abstract

Apex predators may influence carnivore communities through the suppression of competitively dominant mesopredators, however they also provide carrion subsidies that could influence foraging and competition among sympatric mesopredators when small prey is scarce. We assessed coyote Canis latrans and red fox Vulpes vulpes winter diet overlap and composition from scats collected in two study areas with 3‐fold difference in grey wolf Canis lupus density due to a wolf control program. We hypothesized that differences in diet composition would be driven by the use of carrion, and tested whether 1) apex predators facilitate resource overlap, or 2) apex predators facilitate resource partitioning. We estimated the available biomass of snowshoe hares and voles based on pellet density and vole capture rates in each study area. We used molecular analysis to confirm species identification of predator scats, and used microscopic evaluation of prey remains to analyze diet composition of 471 coyote and fox scats. Ungulate carrion, voles and snowshoe hares comprised 73% of coyote and fox diet, and differences in use of carrion and microtines accounted for nearly 60% of the dissimilarity in diet among these canids. Carrion was the top‐ranked item in the coyote diet in both study areas, whereas carrion use by red foxes declined 3‐fold in the study area with higher wolf and small prey abundance. Diet overlap tended to be lower and diet diversity tended to be higher where wolves were more abundant, though these trends were not statistically significant. Taken together, our findings indicate that carrion provisions could facilitate resource partitioning in mesocarnivore communities by alleviating exploitation competition for small mammals.

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