Differential habitat use promotes sustainable coexistence between the specialist otter and the generalist mink
Bonesi L., Macdonald DW.
Optimal foraging and habitat selection theories predict that heterogeneous environments should favour the coexistence of competitors, especially when the dominant competitor is a specialist and the sub-ordinate is a generalist. In this paper, we analysed differential habitat use as a potential mechanism for the coexistence of two competing riparian mammals, the specialist and dominant Eurasian otter (Lutra lutra) and the generalist and sub-ordinate American mink (Mustela vison). We tested three hypotheses: H1: mink coexist with otters for longer in areas with abundance of habitats hosting terrestrial prey because, by not relying on aquatic prey, mink can segregate from its competitor. H2: the characteristics of the habitat closer to the riverbank will affect the length of time the two species coexist, because mink are still tied to the water even in the presence of otters. H3: denser vegetative cover along the bank increases the duration of coexistence of mink and otters because it reduces the frequency of their encounters. The first hypothesis was supported by the data and we found that in areas where terrestrial prey was abundant mink coexisted for longer with otters. The second hypothesis was also supported by the data and the characteristics of the habitat closer to the riverbank were the most important in determining coexistence time. Finally, we did not find supporting evidence for the third hypothesis. This study provides strong evidence that habitat heterogeneity plays an important role in determining the likelihood of coexistence of American mink with Eurasian otters. This result is particularly important from a conservation standpoint. Mink are invasive and a threat to endangered species in parts of their range. The knowledge that mink have a higher chance to persist in the presence of otters when terrestrial prey is abundant should be used to target areas for preferential mink management.