The Science of Nature

, 106:57 | Cite as

Spatiotemporal niche partitioning in a specious silphid community (Coleoptera: Silphidae Nicrophorus)

  • Maranda L. Keller
  • Daniel R. Howard
  • Carrie L. HallEmail author
Original Paper


Resource niche partitioning mediates the coexistence of similar species by reducing the chance of competitive encounters. For co-occurring species that share an ephemeral resource, contrasting activity in space and time may facilitate their persistence. Burying beetles (Silphidae: Nicrophorus) depend entirely on small vertebrate carcasses to reproduce. Given the unpredictability of this resource, and its value to congeners and other scavenger species, burying beetles likely endure intense competition to secure a carcass. Here, contrasting spatial and temporal niche patterns are explored as resource allocation strategies among five sympatric species of burying beetles (N. americanus, N. marginatus, N. pustulatus, N. orbicollis, and N. tomentosus). Specifically, the space-use and daily activity patterns are measured, at a fine scale, across species pairs to extrapolate contrasting niche-use patterns within a nicrophorine-rich grassland community in North-Central Oklahoma, USA. The results of this study reveal an important interplay between space-use and daily temporal activity in mediating the scramble competition associated with carrion resources. Where spatial or temporal overlap between burying beetle species is high, direct competition is mediated along an alternative niche dimension. For instance, N. americanus and N. orbicollis, a species dyad thought to be in direct competition, do overlap temporally but were found to have segregated space-use patterns. Our findings provide key insights into the competitive interactions within a necrophilous community and further inform our broader understanding of the spatial and temporal resource dimensions that drive the ecological niche.


Nicrophorus Temporal niche Spatial niche Interspecific competition Burying beetles Niche segregation 



We thank J. Alvarez, N. Antonson, L. Bartl, J. Bateau, A. Conley, S. Dodgin, E. Jorde, R. Jorde, L. Yares, K. Lee, A. Luger, R. Migotski, C. Neilson, J. O’del, M. Phillips, and J. Tracy for assistance in the field during the 4 years of this study. We thank R. Hamilton and J. Pruett of The Nature Conservancy Oklahoma Chapter for access to the study site, which is located on the traditional lands of the Wazhazhe (Osage), and Očeti Šakówiŋ (Sioux) people. The helpful comments of two anonymous reviewers greatly improved the manuscript and we thank them for their contributions.

Funding information

Funding for this project was provided by our colleagues and partners at Advanced Ecology, Ltd., and grants to CLH and DRH from the University of New Hampshire and the New Hampshire Agricultural Experimental Station.

Supplementary material

114_2019_1653_MOESM1_ESM.docx (30 kb)
ESM 1 (DOCX 30 kb)
114_2019_1653_Fig5_ESM.png (13.7 mb)
Online Resource 2:

Map of the core homerange of Nicrophorus americanus (ABB) across the tallgrass prairie study site in the summer of 2017. Core space use was estimated using the kernel density function in ArcGIS 10.3.1 software. A 50% isopleth polygon was then produced from the kernel density raster layer using Geospatial Modelling Environment software. Highest densities of ABBs were located in three discrete areas of the study site, all associated with riparian corridors. (PNG 14032 kb)

114_2019_1653_MOESM2_ESM.tif (96.3 mb)
High resolution image (TIF 98619 kb)
114_2019_1653_Fig6_ESM.png (13.7 mb)
Online Resource 3:

Map of the core homerange of Nicrophorus marginatus across the tallgrass prairie study site in the summer of 2017. Core space use was estimated using the kernel density function in ArcGIS 10.3.1 software. A 50% isopleth polygon was then produced from the kernel density raster layer using Geospatial Modelling Environment software. Highest densities of Nicrophorus marginatus were located in three discrete areas of the study site, all associated with more open grassland environments. (PNG 14054 kb)

114_2019_1653_MOESM3_ESM.tif (96.3 mb)
High resolution image (TIF 98619 kb)
114_2019_1653_Fig7_ESM.png (13.7 mb)
Online Resource 4:

Map of the core homerange of Nicrophorus orbicollis across the tallgrass prairie study site in the summer of 2017. Core space use was estimated using the kernel density function in ArcGIS 10.3.1 software. A 50% isopleth polygon was then produced from the kernel density raster layer using Geospatial Modelling Environment software. The highest densities of Nicrophorus orbicollis were located in a single partially forested region of the study site, overlapping one of the core range polygons of Nicrophorus americanus. (PNG 14069 kb)

114_2019_1653_MOESM4_ESM.tif (96.3 mb)
High resolution image (TIF 98619 kb)
114_2019_1653_Fig8_ESM.png (13.7 mb)
Online Resource 5:

Map of the core homerange of Nicrophorus pustulatus across the tallgrass prairie study site in the summer of 2017. Core space use was estimated using the kernel density function in ArcGIS 10.3.1 software. A 50% isopleth polygon was then produced from the kernel density raster layer using Geospatial Modelling Environment software. Highest densities of Nicrophorus pustulatus were located in three discrete areas of the study site, all located near gallery forests or riparian corridors embedded within the larger grassland landscape. (PNG 14055 kb)

114_2019_1653_MOESM5_ESM.tif (96.3 mb)
High resolution image (TIF 98619 kb)
114_2019_1653_Fig9_ESM.png (13.9 mb)
Online Resource 6:

Map of the core homerange of Nicrophorus tomentosus across the tallgrass prairie study site inthe summer of 2017. Core space use was estimated using the kernel density function in ArcGIS 10.3.1 software. A 50% isopleth polygon was then produced from the kernel density raster layer using Geospatial Modelling Environment software. Highest densities of Nicrophorus tomentosus were located in a single small area situated along a grassland-forest ecotone on the far eastern portion of the study site, which overlapped the core ranges of both Nicrophorus marginatus and Nicrophorus americanus in that year. (PNG 14221 kb)

114_2019_1653_MOESM6_ESM.tif (96.3 mb)
High resolution image (TIF 98619 kb)


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© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Biological SciencesUniversity of New HampshireDurhamUSA

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