A synergistic trio of invasive mammals? Facilitative interactions among beavers, muskrats, and mink at the southern end of the Americas

Abstract

With ecosystems increasingly having co-occurring invasive species, it is becoming more important to understand invasive species interactions. At the southern end of the Americas, American beavers (Castor canadensis), muskrats (Ondatra zibethicus), and American mink (Neovison vison), were independently introduced. We used generalized linear models to investigate how muskrat presence related to beaver-modified habitats on Navarino Island, Chile. We also investigated the trophic interactions of the mink with muskrats and beavers by studying mink diet. Additionally, we proposed a conceptual species interaction framework involving these invasive species on the new terrestrial community. Our results indicated a positive association between muskrat presence and beaver-modified habitats. Model average coefficients indicated that muskrats preferred beaver-modified freshwater ecosystems, compared to not dammed naturally flowing streams. In addition, mammals and fish represented the main prey items for mink. Although fish were mink’s dominant prey in marine coastal habitats, muskrats represented >50 % of the biomass of mink diet in inland environments. We propose that beavers affect river flow and native vegetation, changing forests into wetlands with abundant grasses and rush vegetation. Thus, beavers facilitate the existence of muskrats, which in turn sustain inland mink populations. The latter have major impacts on the native biota, especially on native birds and small rodents. The facilitative interactions among beavers, muskrats, and mink that we explored in this study, together with other non-native species, suggest that an invasive meltdown process may exist; however further research is needed to confirm this hypothesis. Finally, we propose a community-level management to conserve the biological integrity of native ecosystems.

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Acknowledgments

We thank Matías Barceló, Nicolás Carro, Gabriel Gómez, Simón Castillo, Ana Piñeiro, Fernando Saldivia, Rocio Jara, Omar Barroso, and Javier Rendoll for all their hard field work help. We appreciate the valuable support of Nicolas Soto and Cristian Soto to this project. We also thank Amy Wynia and two anonymous reviewers for their valuable comments that significantly improved this manuscript. Tamara Contador and the Omora Foundation provided support to this project, with access to the Wankara Laboratory facilities and insect identification. This study was financed by the Toulouse Graduate School Program at the University of North Texas (UNT), the Rufford Foundation, the Conservation Research and Education Opportunities International (CREOi), and the Institute of Ecology and Biodiversity of Chile (IEB; grants ICM P05-002 and Basal-CONICYT PFB-23). This study is a contribution of the Sub-Antarctic Biocultural Conservation Program, jointly coordinated by UNT in the US, and by IEB and the Universidad de Magallanes in Chile.

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Correspondence to Ramiro D. Crego.

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Crego, R.D., Jiménez, J.E. & Rozzi, R. A synergistic trio of invasive mammals? Facilitative interactions among beavers, muskrats, and mink at the southern end of the Americas. Biol Invasions 18, 1923–1938 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10530-016-1135-0

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Keywords

  • Cape Horn
  • Ecosystem changes
  • Invasive meltdown
  • Invasive species interactions
  • Sub-Antarctic Magellanic forests