Competition between Eurasian otter Lutra lutra and American mink Mustela vison probed by niche shift
Bonesi L., Chanin P., Macdonald DW.
Interspecific competition is one of several constraints that might prevent an individual from maximising its energy intake. When an interspecific competitor is introduced, an individual is often forced to shift its diet according to the intensity of the competitive pressure. In this paper, we explore whether the introduced American mink (Mustela vison Schreber) shifts its diet when the density of its potential competitor, the Eurasian otter (Lutra lutra L.), is increased. We compared the diets of otter and mink at the same location but at two moments in time when the relative densities of these two species were different while controlling for the abundance of aquatic prey. Mink and otters are semi-aquatic mammals belonging to the same guild of mustelids and otters are expected to be the dominant competitor because they are larger and better at hunting underwater. The diets of otters and mink overlap to a great extent but while otters specialise mainly on aquatic prey, mink are able to exploit both aquatic and terrestrial prey. These observations prompted the hypothesis investigated in this work that at higher otter densities the diet of mink should change to include a higher proportion of terrestrial items. This hypothesis was supported by the data and at higher otter densities mink diet was observed to consist of a higher proportion of mammals and birds while fewer fish were present, although this pattern was present only in winter while no changes were observed in spring. Meanwhile the diet of otters remained basically unchanged. In the second part of the study, we investigated whether niche breadth and niche overlap between otter and mink changed at different otter densities. We found that niche overlap declined as the density of otters increased, in agreement with the prediction of habitat selection theory.