Space invaders? A search for patterns underlying the coexistence of alien black rats and Galápagos rice rats.
Harris DB., Gregory SD., Macdonald DW.
The introduction and spread of the black rat Rattus rattus is believed to have caused the worst decline of any vertebrate taxon in Galápagos. However, the "extinct" Santiago rice rat Nesoryzomys swarthi has recently been rediscovered in sympatry with R. rattus providing the first exception to this general pattern of displacement. We carried out an exploratory investigation of this novel system with the aim of identifying patterns that may facilitate the apparent coexistence of the two species. We carried out an extensive survey of Santiago Island to map the current distribution of the endemic rice rat and to explore broad scale distribution-habitat associations. We then used live-trapping, radio-tracking, and spool-and-line tracking to quantify abundance-habitat correlations and to test for evidence of interspecific spatial segregation, alteration of N. swarthi activity patterns (spatial and temporal), and microhabitat partitioning. We found that N. swarthi has disappeared from part of its historical range and appears to be restricted to a 14 km stretch of the north-central coast, characterised by high density of the cactus Opuntia galapageia. In contrast, the generalist R. rattus was found at all survey sites. We found no evidence of spatial segregation, and home range size, temporal activity and density of N. swarthi did not vary with local density of R. rattus. However, pre-dawn and post-dusk N. swarthi activity levels increased with R. rattus density perhaps reflecting an increase in foraging effort necessary to compensate for the costs of interspecific exploitation or interference competition. The distribution, microhabitat selection, and abundance-habitat relations of N. swarthi suggest that the endemic cactus O. galapageia may facilitate interspecific coexistence. Further research should include a comparison of inter-seasonal resource preference and foraging activity of the two species coupled with replicated field experiments to confirm and quantify competition and to elucidate the mechanism of competitive coexistence.