Niche similarities among introduced and native mountain ungulates
Garrott, Robert A.
McWhirter, Douglas E.
White, Patrick J.
DeCesare, N. J.
Stewart, Shawn T.
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The niche concept provides a strong foundation for theoretical and applied research among a broad range of disciplines. When two ecologically similar species are sympatric, theory predicts they will occupy distinct ecological niches to reduce competition. Capitalizing on the increasing availability of spatial data, we built from single species habitat suitability models to a multispecies evaluation of the niche partitioning hypothesis with sympatric mountain ungulates - native bighorn sheep (BHS; Ovis canadensis) and introduced mountain goats (MTG; Oreamnos americanus) in the northeast Greater Yellowstone Area. We characterized seasonal niches using two-stage resource selection functions with a used-available design and descriptive summaries of the niche attributes associated with used GPS locations. We evaluated seasonal similarity in niche space according to confidence interval overlap of model coefficients and similarity in geographic space by comparing model predicted values with Schoener\'s D metric. Our sample contained 37,962 summer locations from 53 individuals (BHS = 31, MTG = 22), and 79,984 winter locations from 57 individuals (BHS = 35, MTG = 22). Slope was the most influential niche component for both species and seasons, and showed the strongest evidence of niche partitioning. Bighorn sheep occurred on steeper slopes than mountain goats in summer and mountain goats occurred on steeper slopes in winter. The pattern of differential selection among species was less prevalent for the remaining covariates, indicating similarity in niche space. Model predictions in geographic space showed broad seasonal similarity (summer D = 0.88, winter D = 0.87), as did niche characterizations from used GPS locations. The striking similarities in seasonal niches suggest that introduced mountain goats will continue to increase their spatial overlap with native bighorn. Our results suggest that reducing densities of mountain goats in hunted areas where they are sympatric with bighorn sheep and impeding their expansion may reduce the possibility of competition and disease transfer.Additional studies that specifically investigate partitioning at finer scales and along dietary or temporal niche axes will help to inform an adaptive management approach.
Lowrey, Blake, Robert A. Garrott, D. E. McWhirter, P. J. White, N. J. DeCesare, and S. T. Stewart. "Niche similarities among introduced and native mountain ungulates." Ecological Applications (March 2018). DOI:10.1002/eap.1719.