Realised niche changes in a native herbivore assemblage associated with the presence of livestock

16 March 2017

Traba, Juan; Iranzo, Esperanza; Carmona, Carlos; Malo, Juan E.

Habitat partitioning is a common ecological mechanism to avoid competition among coexisting species, and the introduction of new species into existing assemblages can increase competitive pressures. However, situations of species in allopatry and sympatry only differing in species presence but not in environmental conditions are scarce. Thus, discerning whether niche segregation arises from competition or from different habitat preferences is usually unfeasible.
Here, we analyse species' habitat niches in an assemblage of native and introduced herbivores in Southern Patagonia. We test if niche overlap is higher between native and domestic herbivores than among natives as expected from the relatively short time of coexistence, and we evaluate the effect of intra- and interspecific competition on niche breadth. We use a probabilistic multidimensional approach and null models to evaluate overlap and changes in niche dimensions.
Overlap among native species is low as expected for species coexisting in evolutionary time. In native-domestic species pairs, niche overlap was higher than among natives, although showing some niche segregation indicating niche differentiation in ecological time. Moreover, the presence of domestic species was associated with niche narrowing of both native and introduced species, revealing interspecific density-dependent effects on their habitat niche during resource shortage periods.