Research Article: Prey availability and temporal partitioning modulate felid coexistence in Neotropical forests

Date Published: March 12, 2019

Publisher: Public Library of Science

Author(s): Fernanda Santos, Chris Carbone, Oliver R. Wearn, J. Marcus Rowcliffe, Santiago Espinosa, Marcela Guimarães Moreira Lima, Jorge A. Ahumada, André Luis Sousa Gonçalves, Leonardo C. Trevelin, Patricia Alvarez-Loayza, Wilson R. Spironello, Patrick A. Jansen, Leandro Juen, Carlos A. Peres, Mark S. Boyce.


Carnivores have long been used as model organisms to examine mechanisms that allow coexistence among ecologically similar species. Interactions between carnivores, including competition and predation, comprise important processes regulating local community structure and diversity. We use data from an intensive camera-trapping monitoring program across eight Neotropical forest sites to describe the patterns of spatiotemporal organization of a guild of five sympatric cat species: jaguar (Panthera onca), puma (Puma concolor), ocelot (Leopardus pardalis), jaguarundi (Herpailurus yagouaroundi) and margay (Leopardus wiedii). For the three largest cat species, we developed multi-stage occupancy models accounting for habitat characteristics (landscape complexity and prey availability) and models accounting for species interactions (occupancy estimates of potential competitor cat species). Patterns of habitat-use were best explained by prey availability, rather than habitat structure or species interactions, with no evidence of negative associations of jaguar on puma and ocelot occupancy or puma on ocelot occupancy. We further explore temporal activity patterns and overlap of all five felid species. We observed a moderate temporal overlap between jaguar, puma and ocelot, with differences in their activity peaks, whereas higher temporal partitioning was observed between jaguarundi and both ocelot and margay. Lastly, we conducted temporal overlap analysis and calculated species activity levels across study sites to explore if shifts in daily activity within species can be explained by varying levels of local competition pressure. Activity patterns of ocelots, jaguarundis and margays were similarly bimodal across sites, but pumas exhibited irregular activity patterns, most likely as a response to jaguar activity. Activity levels were similar among sites and observed differences were unrelated to competition or intraguild killing risk. Our study reveals apparent spatial and temporal partitioning for most of the species pairs analyzed, with prey abundance being more important than species interactions in governing the local occurrence and spatial distribution of Neotropical forest felids.

Partial Text

Species interactions comprise one of the most important processes maintaining the structure of local biological diversity, including how species with similar ecological requirements can coexist [1]. Among various existing interspecific ecological relationships, competitive and predation interactions, and their reciprocal effects, have the potential to affect diversity patterns equally, each of which could either limit or promote coexistence [2].

Five years of camera-trapping at each of the eight study sites amounted to a total sampling effort of 72,835 camera trap days across 480 camera trap stations, yielding 186 records of jaguar (Panthera onca), 255 of puma (Puma concolor), 915 of ocelot (Leopardus pardalis), 81 of jaguarundi (Herpailurus yagouaroundi), 99 of margay (Leopardus wiedii) and nine of oncilla (Leopardus tigrinus) (Table 2).

Our study explored how environmental and species interactions affect the habitat use and activity patterns of forest felid assemblages in the New World tropics. The patterns and assemblage structure observed at our eight study sites are congruent with previous studies in Neotropical forests [6,29,31], with the two large-bodied cats consistently showing their highest abundances in large tracts of protected forests, the ocelots being numerically dominant at most of the sites, regardless of their conservation status and forest extent, and the smaller cats appearing as less abundant species.

This is the first study providing a large-scale insights into the co-occurrence of five forest hyper-carnivore species throughout the Neotropical region, assessing patterns across protected areas of differing size and intactness. We have shown that jaguar, puma and ocelot exhibit clear spatial preferences at local to landscape scales according to prey availability. We found that prey availability is more important for felid space-use than either landscape variables or species interactions, which likely supports the notion of multi-species convergence on productive prey sites, rather than competitive interactions.




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