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Food niche variation of European and American mink during the American mink invasion in north-eastern Belarus

Abstract

Understanding processes allowing the co-existence of ecologically similar species is important but difficult to study in community ecology. Introductions of alien species are unplanned experiments allowing investigation of co-adaptation of both native and invasive species over a short period. We analysed food niche differentiation between native European mink and alien American mink after invasion of the latter species in Belarus. European mink feed mainly on crayfish, frogs and fish whereas American mink prefer small mammals, fish and frogs. The diet of both species varied between seasons and during the period of alien mink invasion. Concurrent with the progress of American mink invasion, the European mink food niche has narrowed to feeding mainly on frogs, with the proportion of aquatic prey (fish and crayfish) in their diet drastically reduced. In contrast, the American mink food niche became wider during invasion. The breadth was stable but included a varied proportion of different prey categories: namely an increased proportion of aquatic prey and a decreased proportion of water vole and waterfowl. The increase in abundance of American mink saw a decrease in the proportion of larger prey in their diet. When American mink preyed more often on frogs, food niche overlap of both predators increased. This result suggests that arrival of an alien competitor reduced food abundance (exploitative competition) and caused a change in native mink diet.

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Acknowledgments

The main financial support was provided by the British Government’s Darwin Initiative Foundation. In addition, the Institute of Zoology of the National Academy of Sciences of Belarus in part supported the study. Also, we are grateful to D. Krasko, G. Lauzhel and U. Trusilova helped in the field work and to G. Kerley and G. Hyward for critical comments and correcting English. The project was supported by Marie Curie European Reintegration Grant to A.Z. We thank two anonymous referees for their comments on an earlier draft.

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Correspondence to Andrzej Zalewski.

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Sidorovich, V.E., Polozov, A.G. & Zalewski, A. Food niche variation of European and American mink during the American mink invasion in north-eastern Belarus. Biol Invasions 12, 2207–2217 (2010). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10530-009-9631-0

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