Interspecific competition in tree squirrels: do introduced grey squirrels (Sciurus carolinensis) deplete tree seeds hoarded by red squirrels (S. vulgaris)?
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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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