Occupancy patterns and niche partitioning within a diverse carnivore community exposed to anthropogenic pressures
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Although carnivores are in global decline, diverse carnivore communities are common in sub-Saharan Africa, where more than 20 species may co-occur. Though intraguild competition and predation can limit the set of species that coexist, most carnivores have traits that decrease the impacts of interspecific competition on fitness, a pattern that promotes coexistence. An increasing human population and demand for natural resources (e.g. farming) has fragmented landscapes, reduced available prey, and elevated rates of conflict. These anthropogenic pressures tend to eliminate large carnivores first, which can have cascading effects on ecosystem function (e.g. mesopredator release). Anthropogenic pressures might also affect mesocarnivores directly, but this hypothesis has received little research attention to date. Here, we used camera surveys to describe spatial and temporal patterns of carnivore occupancy in a mixed-use landscape in Kenya. This landscape included a community conservation area and seasonally occupied human settlement and livestock grazing areas. We detected 21 carnivore species and examined occupancy patterns for the 12 most frequently detected. Differences among species in responses to environmental conditions supported a hypothesis of spatial niche partitioning. Differences in the temporal activity patterns of the apex predators and mesocarnivores supported a hypothesis of temporal niche partitioning. Human land use altered occupancy patterns in 10 of 12 species. Apex predator occupancies were lower in more anthropogenically disturbed areas, but mesocarnivore occupancies were not inversely related to apex predators, contrary to the mesopredator release hypothesis. Our results suggest that a diverse carnivore community persists in this mixed use landscape because of seasonal variation in human land use.
Schuette P, Wagner A, Wagner M & Creel S 2013. Occupancy patterns and niche partitioning within a diverse carnivore community exposed to anthropogenic pressures. Biological Conservation 158:301-312.