Exotic Prey Facilitate Coexistence between Pumas and Culpeo Foxes in the Andes of Central Chile
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Coexistence between species with similar ecological niches implies species must segregate along one or more niche axes to survive. Space, time, and trophic resources are regarded as the principal axes upon which species segregate. We examined segregation along these niche axes to determine mechanisms underlying coexistence between the two main predators, puma (Puma concolor) and culpeo foxes (Lycalopex culpaeus) in the Andes of Central Chile. We used occupancy modeling to examine space use and overlap, Kernel Density Estimation to determine temporal activity patterns and overlap, and analysis of prey remains in feces to assess diet breadth and similarity. We found high spatial overlap and positive associations between detection of the carnivores lending little support for spatial segregation. Similarly, we found high nocturnal, temporal overlap between pumas and foxes that matched peaks in activity of prey. In contrast, we found relatively low dietary overlap indicating niche segregation likely occurs along the dietary axis. The Puma diet was dominated by introduced, exotic hares and foxes appeared to shift away from hares to rabbits, small mammals, and seeds. Given that lagomorphs are the main dietary resource for pumas in particular, management decisions regarding the control or eradication of such exotic species could negatively affected puma survival.