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An experimental manipulation of the intensity of interspecific competition: effects on a small marsupial


An investigation was made of the effects of reducing and enhancing the intensity of competition on a small marsupial, Antechinus stuartii, from a larger and competitively dominant congener, A. swainsonii. Populations of these species were monitored in two study areas (one control, one experimental) in forest near Canberra, Australia, between February and July in 1980 and 1981. In the experimental study area in 1980 I reduced the numbers of A. swainsonii relative to A. stuartii (thus reducing the intensity of interspecific competition), but in 1981 I augmented the numbers of A. swainsonii (thus increasing the intensity of competition). No manipulations were made in the control study area, and the numbers of both species remained similar there in both years. When the intensity of interspecific competition was reduced, the A. stuartii population increased in size. Increases occurred also in individual movements, home range areas, diurnal activity and in the proportion of large terrestrial prey (larvae, Amphipoda) in the diet. An increase in use of structurally complex forest floor habitats also coincided with decreased arboreal activity. In contrast, when the intensity of competition was enhanced, most of these population and resource shifts were reversed. These findings suggest that reduction in the intensity of interspecific competition allows A. stuartii access to terrestrial sources of food favoured by A. swainsonii, whereas enhancement leads to exclusion of A. stuartii from the forest floor. Competition occurs by interference. This may result in fixed per capita competitive effects of A. swainsonii on A. stuartii, and account for the observed changes in a very broad range of population and resource parameters.

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Dickman, C.R. An experimental manipulation of the intensity of interspecific competition: effects on a small marsupial. Oecologia 70, 536–543 (1986).

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Key words

  • Competition
  • Antechinus
  • Marsupials
  • Australia
  • Community ecology