Impacts of generalist mesopredators on the demography of small-mammal populations in fragmented landscapes

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Abstract:

A consequence of the reduction and subsequent fragmentation of native habitats has been the loss or severe reduction of specialist predator populations from these altered ecosystems, resulting in a “release” of generalist predators. Demographic aspects of small-rodent populations, especially predator-driven density cycles, have been extensively studied. However, the majority of studies examining predator–prey dynamics have been conducted in relatively undisturbed ecosystems, while more limited data are available for regions that have been greatly modified by human settlement. Using raccoons (Procyon lotor (L., 1758)) and white-footed mice (Peromyscus leucopus (Rafinesque, 1818)) as focal species, we used an experimental framework to evaluate the hypothesis that generalist mesopredators limit small-mammal abundance in landscapes that have been significantly altered by human land use. Both parametric and nonparametric analyses indicated that populations of white-footed mice exhibited a significant increase (32%) in density where raccoon abundance was reduced when compared with control populations. Our study highlights an important role that superabundant mesopredators can play in ecosystems through the limitation of secondary prey populations. This research suggests that further investigation of the trophic dynamics of agricultural ecosystems is critical if we are to elucidate the fundamental ecological mechanisms associated with the persistence of species in disturbed environments.

Document Type: Research Article

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1139/z11-045

Publication date: August 30, 2011

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  • Published since 1929, this monthly journal reports on primary research contributed by respected international scientists in the broad field of zoology, including behaviour, biochemistry and physiology, developmental biology, ecology, genetics, morphology and ultrastructure, parasitology and pathology, and systematics and evolution. It also invites experts to submit review articles on topics of current interest.
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