Foraging in space and time structure an African small mammal community
We used live-trapping and foraging to test for the effect of habitat selection and diet on structuring a community of six small mammals and one bird within the Soutpansberg, South Africa. We established grids that straddled adjacent habitats: woodland, rocky hillside, and grassland. Trapping and foraging were used to estimate abundance, habitat use, and species-specific foraging costs. The species with the highest abundance and foraging activity in a habitat, activity time, or food was considered the most efficient and presumed to have a competitive advantage. All species exhibited distinct patterns of spatial and temporal habitat preference which provided the main mechanism of coexistence, followed by diet selection. The study species were organized into three assemblages (α diversity): grassland, Rhabdomys pumilio, Dendromus melanotis, and Mus minutoides.; woodland, Aethomys ineptus and Micaelamys namaquensis; and rock-dwelling, M. namaquensis and Elephantulus myurus. Francolinus natalensis foraged in open rocky areas and under wooded islands within the grassland. Species organization across the habitats suggested that feeding opportunities are available within all habitats; however, distinct habitat preferences resulted from differing foraging aptitudes and efficiencies of the competing species. At Lajuma, species distribution and coexistence are promoted through distinct habitat preferences that were shaped by competition and species-specific foraging costs. The combination of trapping and foraging provided a mechanistic approach that integrates behavior into community ecology by ‘asking’ the animal to reveal its perspective of the environment. Using spatial and temporal foraging decisions—as behavioral indicators—enables us to guide our understanding for across-taxa species coexistence.
- Biological & Environmental Sciences [296 items ]