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Functional compensation by insular scavengers: the relative contributions of vertebrates and invertebrates vary among islands

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When the extinction of some species results in loss of ecosystem functions, other species may be able to compensate for this loss. Functional compensation has recently been observed on islands where species are likely to become extinct; however, few studies have analysed functional compensation by scavengers in insular environments. Here, we investigated the ecosystem functions of vertebrate and invertebrate scavengers on Honshu, the main island of Japan, and offshore islands (four of the Oki Islands). The Oki Islands lack several native vertebrate scavengers (raccoon dogs, boars, martens, and foxes) that are abundant on Honshu. We experimentally placed mouse carcasses on the forest floors of Honshu (12 sites) and the Oki Islands (7 sites on Dōgo, 4 sites on Nishinoshima, 4 sites on Nakanoshima, and 3 sites on Chiburijima) in September–October 2014 and 2015. Nearly all of the mouse carcasses (95–100%) placed on the forest floor disappeared within 1 week. However, the relative importance of vertebrate and invertebrate scavengers varied among islands. Vertebrate and invertebrate scavengers contributed equally on Honshu (carcass removal by vertebrates, 47%), whereas vertebrate scavengers rarely contributed to carcass removal on three of the Oki Islands (carcass removal by vertebrates: 17% on Dōgo, 30% on Nishinoshima, and 5% on Nakanoshima). Consequently, invertebrate scavengers (Nicrophorus burying beetles) functionally compensated for the low species diversity of vertebrate scavengers on the three islands (carcass burial by Nicrophorus beetles, 65–95%). However, on the small island of Chiburijima, introduced raccoon dogs contributed to nearly all of the removals (93%), suggesting that introduced scavengers can compensate for the functional reduction. This functional compensation by scavengers may help stabilise the functions and/or services of scavengers in island environments.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: July 1, 2018

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