Interspecific competition in tree squirrels: do introduced grey squirrels (Sciurus carolinensis) deplete tree seeds hoarded by red squirrels (S. vulgaris)?
Red squirrels (Sciurus vulgaris) and introduced eastern grey squirrels (S. carolinensis) scatterhoard seeds of broadleaf trees. Scatterhoarded seeds are an essential resource in spring and their consumption increases red-squirrel fitness. We examined whether grey squirrels partly deplete the high-energy food resources cached by red squirrels, reducing their consumption, in two ways: (1) at the population level, comparing energy intake of feeding on cached seeds between a study site with red and grey squirrels and one with only red squirrels present; and (2) at the individual level, in the study site where species co-exist, relating hoard recovery of red squirrels to the amount of core-area overlap with grey squirrels. There were no significant site differences in the mean daily energy intake of red squirrels feeding on seeds recovered from caches. However, in the red-grey site, during spring, red squirrels that had a high percentage of their home-range core area overlapped by grey squirrels had a lower daily energy intake than low-overlap red squirrels. Body mass of red squirrels in spring was negatively correlated with the percentage of interspecific core-area overlap, but not with core-area overlap with other red squirrels. Our data suggest that interspecific competition for scatterhoarded seeds, with grey squirrels pilfering red squirrels' food caches, caused a reduced energy intake in red squirrels with a high degree of interspecific core-area overlap, and reduced body mass in spring. Therefore, cache pilfering is likely to reduce reproductive output in red squirrels, and thus play a role in the replacement of red by grey squirrels.
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