Human activity reduces niche partitioning among three widespread mesocarnivores
Smith Justine A., Thomas Austen C., Levi Taal, Wang Yiwei, Wilmers Christopher C.
Anthropogenic disturbances can constrain the realized niche space of wildlife by inducing avoidance behaviors and altering community dynamics. Human activity might contribute to reduced partitioning of niche space by carnivores that consume similar resources, both by promoting tolerant species while also altering behavior of species (e.g. activity patterns). We investigated the influence of anthropogenic disturbance on habitat and dietary niche breadth and overlap among competing carnivores, and explored if altered resource partitioning could be explained by human-induced activity shifts. To describe the diets of coyotes, bobcat, and gray foxes, we designed a citizen science program to collect carnivore scat samples in low- (‘wildland’) and high- (‘interface’) human-use open space preserves, and obtained diet estimates using a DNA metabarcoding approach. Habitat use was determined at scat locations. We found that coyotes expanded habitat and dietary niche breadth in interface preserves, whereas bobcats and foxes narrowed both niche breadth measures. High human use was related to increased dietary niche overlap among all mesocarnivore pairs, increased coyote habitat overlap with bobcats and foxes, and a small reduction in habitat overlap between bobcats and foxes. The strongest increase in diet overlap was among coyotes and foxes, which was smaller in magnitude than their habitat overlap increase. Finally, coyote scats were more likely to contain nocturnal prey in interface preserves, whereas foxes appeared to reduce consumption of nocturnal prey. Our results suggest that dominant and generalist mesocarnivores may encroach on the niche space of subordinate mesocarnivores in areas with high human activity, and that patterns in resource use may be related to human-induced activity shifts.