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Indirect effects of a large mammalian herbivore on small mammal populations: Context-dependent variation across habitat types, mammal species, and seasons
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Multiple consumer species frequently co-occur in the same landscape and, through effects on surrounding environments, can interact in direct and indirect ways. These interactions can vary in occurrence and importance, and focusing on this variation is critical for understanding the dynamics of interactions among consumers. Large mammalian herbivores are important engineers of ecosystems worldwide, have substantial impacts on vegetation, and can indirectly affect small-mammal populations. However, the degree to which such indirect effects vary within the same system has received minimal attention. We used a 16-year-old exclosure experiment, stratified across a heterogeneous landscape, to evaluate the importance of context-dependent interactions between tule elk (Cervus canadensis nannodes) and small mammals (deer mice [Peromyscus maniculatus], meadow voles [Microtus californicus], and harvest mice [Reithrodontymys megalotis]) in a coastal grassland in California. Effects of elk on voles varied among habitats and seasons: In open grasslands, elk reduced vole numbers during fall 2013 but not summer 2014in Lupinus-dominated grasslands, elk reduced vole numbers during summer 2014 but not fall 2013and in Baccharis-dominated grasslands, elk had no effect on vole numbers in either season. Effects of elk on the two mice species also varied among habitats and seasons, but often in different ways from voles and each other. In fall 2013, elk decreased mice abundances in Lupinus-dominated grasslands, but not in Baccharis-dominated or open grasslands. In summer 2014, elk decreased the abundance of harvest mice consistently across habitat types. In contrast, elk increased deer-mice numbers in open grasslands but not other habitats. Within the same heterogenous study system, the influence of elk on small mammals was strongly context-dependent, varying among habitats, mammal species, and seasons. We hypothesize that such variability is common in nature and that failure to consider it may yield inaccurate findings and limit our understanding of interactions among co-occurring consumers.
|Ecology and Evolution
|Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International