Functional plasticity in vertebrate scavenger assemblages in the presence of introduced competitors

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Bingham, Ellen L
Gilby, Ben L
Olds, Andrew D
Weston, Michael A
Connolly, Rod M
Henderson, Christopher J
Maslo, Brooke
Peterson, Charles F
Voss, Christine M
Schlacher, Thomas A
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2018
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Abstract

Introduced species may suppress or enhance ecological functions, or they may have neutral effects in ecosystems where they replace or complement native species. Few studies, however, have explicitly tested for these trajectories, and for the effect these might have for native species. In this study, we experimentally test the trajectory and scale of change in the function of ‘carrion removal’ at different carrion loads along ocean beaches in Eastern Australia that have different numbers of introduced red foxes (Vulpes vulpes) and several species of native raptors. We hypothesized that the ‘positive’ effect of foxes on carrion removal would be greatest at high carrion loads, because competition for resources between native and introduced species is lower. Scavenger abundance, fox occurrences, and carrion consumption by these species differed widely between locations and times. Despite distinct spatial differences in the structure of vertebrate scavenger assemblages, total carrion consumption was not significantly different between locations at any carrion load. This lack of variation in functional rates indicates potential functional plasticity in the scavenger assemblage and possible functional accommodation of red foxes. Neutral fox effects on ecological functions or the ecosystem more broadly are, however, very unlikely to extend beyond carrion consumption.

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Oecologia

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188

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2

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Ecology

Ecology not elsewhere classified

Beach

Carrion

Ecological functioning

Fox

Introduced species

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