The dietary basis for temporal partitioning: food habits of coexisting Acomys species
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Two rodent species of the genus Acomys coexist on rocky terrain in the southern deserts of Israel. The common spiny mouse (A. cahirinus) is nocturnally active whereas the golden spiny mouse (A. russatus) is diurnally active. An early removal study suggested that competition accounts for this pattern of temporal partitioning: the golden spiny mouse is forced into diurnal activity by its congener. Theoretically, temporal segregation should facilitate coexistence if the shared limiting resources differ at different times (primarily among predators whose prey populations have activity rhythms), or if they are renewed within the period of the temporal segregation. We studied food preferences of the two Acomys species in a controlled cafeteria experiment in order to assess resource overlap and the potential for competition for food between the two species. We found no significant difference in food preferences between species. The dietary items preferred by both were arthropods. We also carried out a seasonal study of the percentage and identity of arthropods taken in the field by individuals of the two species. Individuals of both species took on annual average a high percentage of arthropods in their diets. Seasonal diet shifts reflect seasonal abundance of arthropods at Ein Gedi during day and night. Diurnal activity may also reduce interspecific interference competition between A. russatus and A. cahirinus. However, the strong interspecific dietary overlap in food preference, the heavy reliance on arthropods in spiny mouse diets, and the seasonal and circadian differences in arthropod consumption suggest that prey partitioning may be a viable mechanism of coexistence in this system.
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