Numerical and dietary responses of a predator community in a temperate zone of Europe

Abstract : The generalist predation hypothesis predicts that the functional responses of generalist predator species should be quicker than those of specialist predators and have a regulating effect on vole populations. New interpretations of their role in temperate ecosystems have, however, reactivated a debate suggesting generalist predators may have a destabilizing effect under certain conditions (e.g. landscape homogeneity, low prey diversity, temporary dominance of 1 prey species associated with a high degree of dietary specialization). We studied a rich predator community dominated by generalist carnivores (Martes spp., Vulpes vulpes, Felis catus) over a 6 yr period in farmland and woodland in France. The most frequent prey were small rodents (mostly Microtus arvalis, a grassland species, and Apodemus spp., a woodland species). Alternative prey were diverse and dominated by lagomorphs (Oryctolagus cuniculus, Lepus europeus). We detected a numerical response among specialist carnivores but not among generalist predators. The dietary responses of generalist predators were fairly complex and most often dependent on variation in density of at least 1 prey species. These results support the generalist predation hypothesis. We document a switch to alternative prey, an increase of diet diversity, and a decrease of diet overlap between small and medium-sized generalists during the low density phase of M. arvalis. In this ecosystem, the high density phases of small mammal species are synchronous and cause a temporary specializing of several generalist predator species. This rapid functional response may indicate the predominant role of generalists in low amplitude population cycles of voles observed in some temperate areas.
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Submitted on : Friday, August 27, 2010 - 12:25:49 PM
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Gilles Dupuy, Patrick Giraudoux, Pierre Delattre. Numerical and dietary responses of a predator community in a temperate zone of Europe. Ecography, Wiley, 2009, 31, pp.1-14. ⟨10.1111/j.1600-0587.2008.04930.x⟩. ⟨hal-00512097⟩

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