, Volume 67, Issue 3, pp 383-393
Date: 06 Dec 2012

Alternative strategies in avian scavengers: how subordinate species foil the despotic distribution

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Trade-offs in species’ traits can mediate competition and enable coexistence. A key challenge in ecology is understanding the role of species’ trade-offs in maintaining diversity, and evolutionary trade-offs between the abilities of competing species are best understood by considering how competitive advantages change along an environmental gradient. Previous studies of such trade-offs are generally limited to two-species systems and a single trade-off. In this study, I consider the effect of trade-offs in search efficiency and competitive abilities on habitat use patterns among a diverse avian scavenger guild. I hypothesize that species’ dominance status and search efficiency will both be correlated with patch quality. Using counts of searching birds in areas that vary in habitat quality in terms of both wildlife and human settlement density and observations at experimental carcasses, I assess the competitive ability, search efficiency, and habitat use of seven avian scavenger species in Masai Mara National Reserve, Kenya. Findings support the hypothesis with Bateleurs, a species with high search efficiency, and Ruppell’s, Lappet-faced, and White-backed vultures, species with high individual or social dominance, preferentially exploiting habitats of high quality, while Tawny eagles and Hooded vultures, species with low search efficiency and competitive ability, prefer habitats of low quality. This paper demonstrates the importance of considering multiple strategies for assessing the effect of competition on habitat use within complex communities.

Communicated by J. A. Graves