, Volume 171, Issue 1, pp 207-215
Date: 18 Jul 2012

From inter-specific behavioural interactions to species distribution patterns along gradients of habitat heterogeneity

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Abstract

The strength of the behavioural processes associated with competitor coexistence may vary when different physical environments, and their biotic communities, come into contact, although empirical evidence of how interference varies across gradients of environmental complexity is still scarce in vertebrates. Here, I analyse how behavioural interactions and habitat selection regulate the local distribution of steppeland larks (Alaudidae) in a gradient from simple to heterogeneous agricultural landscapes in Spain, using crested lark Galerida cristata and Thekla lark G. theklae as study models. Galerida larks significantly partitioned by habitat but frequently co-occurred in heterogeneous environments. Irrespective of habitat divergence, however, the local densities of the two larks were negatively correlated, and the mechanisms beyond this pattern were investigated by means of playback experiments. When simulating the intrusion of the congener by broadcasting the species territorial calls, both larks responded with an aggressive response as intense with respect to warning and approach behaviour as when responding to the intrusion of a conspecific. However, birds promptly responded to playbacks only when congener territories were nearby, a phenomenon that points to learning as the mechanisms through which individuals finely tune their aggressive responses to the local competition levels. Heterospecifics occurred in closer proximity in diverse agro-ecosystems, possibly because of more abundant or diverse resources, and here engage in antagonistic interactions. The drop of species diversity associated with agricultural homogenisation is therefore likely to also bring about the disappearance of the behavioural repertoires associated with species interactions.

Communicated by Ola Olsson.