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Interspecific dominance and asymmetric competition with respect to nesting habitats between two snowfinch species in a high-altitude extreme environment


Interference competition over shared resources is expected to be intensive in harsh environments between phylogenetically and morphologically similar species. We document interspecific dominance and nest habitat selection by two pika-burrow nesting Montifringilla species, white-rumped snowfinches M. taczanowskii (WRS), and rufous-necked snowfinches M. ruficollis (RNS), which commonly inhabit alpine meadows in the northeastern Tibetan plateau. Relative to the critical point (<0.60) for coexistence, high overlaps (0.68–0.86) between the two species in egg-laying date, nest site distribution and nesting burrow attributes suggested strong interspecific competition over these niches. This is also predicted by the ratios of inter-species body mass (1.4) and linear dimensions (1.1–1.2) below the minimum value (2.0 and 1.3) for stable coexistence of closely related species. Larger-sized WRS was behaviorally dominant over pikas and over small-sized RNS. Being dominant, WRS established nesting territories in areas with moderately steep slopes from which they required most of the food resources during the breeding season; in contrast, RNS exhibited no territoriality and had to nest at margins between WRS’s territories and fed at dispersed sites. For the same reason, WRS mainly used active, and RNS used inactive, pika burrows. The asymmetric competition over nesting habitats could contribute to the relatively high nesting success and breeding density of the superior species. We argue that there is a spectrum in interspecific competition strength, from stable coexistence to complete exclusion along a gradient of increased environmental harshness, and the guild of the two snowfinch species is at a mediate position of the spectrum.

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We are grateful to N.F. Liu for his advice and to B. Du, W.B. Liao, H.Y. Mu, and the staff of Gahai Nature Reserve, especially to R.C. Tian, Y. Zhang, and J.Z. Li for their help with the field work. We are indebted to L.X. Sun and an anonymous reviewer for their critical comments on the manuscript. This work was conducted in the Field Research Station for Tibetan Wildlife, which is jointly administered by Wuhan University and Tibet University. Financial support was provided by the National Sciences Foundation of China (grants 30425036 and 30670337).

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Correspondence to Xin Lu.

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Zeng, X., Lu, X. Interspecific dominance and asymmetric competition with respect to nesting habitats between two snowfinch species in a high-altitude extreme environment. Ecol Res 24, 607–616 (2009). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11284-008-0530-0

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  • Alpine meadow
  • Asymmetric competition
  • Body size
  • Interspecific dominance
  • Nest site selection
  • Snowfinch
  • Tibetan plateau