Prickly coexistence or blunt competition? Opuntia refugia in an invaded rodent community.
Gregory SD., Macdonald DW.
Endemic Nesoryzomys swarthi and invasive Rattus rattus exist in unlikely sympatry in Galápagos as female N. swarthi suffer from competition with R. rattus. This study evaluates the role of feeding habits in facilitating their co-occurrence. Spool-and-line tracking of 85 N. swarthi and 33 R. rattus was used to quantify their selected diets, foods of which were used in captive trials of 46 N. swarthi and 34 R. rattus to quantify their preferred diets. Selected diets were compared between species and seasons using niche measures, and contrasted to preferred diets to qualify inferences about competition. Diet overlap was highest in the wet season when food-particularly fruit-abundance was highest and R. rattus diet breadth was broadest. Preferred and selected diets were marginally correlated for R. rattus but uncorrelated for N. swarthi, suggesting that R. rattus interfere with N. swarthi foraging. Diet overlap was highest between female N. swarthi and R. rattus, perhaps due to female breeding requirements. Male N. swarthi avoided R. rattus-preferred foods, possibly to avoid aggressive encounters with R. rattus. During the dry season, when foods declined and the R. rattus population crashed, diet overlap was lowest as R. rattus diet narrowed in the absence of fruits. Female, and particularly male, N. swarthi diet broadened, with emphasis on acquiring Opuntia foods but N. swarthi-preferred and selected diets were uncorrelated, suggesting that their foraging was inhibited by R. rattus. In conclusion, the narrower diet breadth of R. rattus in contrast to N. swarthi suggests that this species may be less adapted to food acquisition at this site, particularly when fruits are absent. The year-round presence of R. rattus, however, appears to inhibit N. swarthi foraging for its preferred diet, and they instead specialise on Opuntia foods, which were uneaten by R. rattus and may provide N. swarthi with a localised competition refuge from encounters with R. rattus.