Experimental removals reveal dietary niche partitioning facilitates coexistence between native and introduced species
1. Niche overlap between native species and ecologically similar invaders can lead to
competitive exclusion of threatened native species, but if two such species also
co‐occur naturally elsewhere, interactions between native and introduced populations
may mirror coevolved niche partitioning that reduces competition and promotes
2. A single, insular population of Fremont’s squirrel (Tamiasciurus fremonti) the Mount
Graham red squirrel (MGRS; T. f. grahamensis) in the Pinaleño Mountains, Arizona,
USA, is critically endangered and resource competition with introduced Abert’s
squirrels (Sciurus aberti) may threaten its long‐term persistence. The species are
naturally synoptic in other mountain sites, and both consume diets comprised primarily
of conifer seeds and fungi.
3. We conducted experimental removals of introduced Abert’s squirrels and used
stable isotope analysis of diets before and after removals, and of diets in naturally
syntopic populations to test the hypothesis that dietary niche partitioning can
facilitate coexistence between native and introduced species. We also developed
a novel approach to determine the influence of fluctuating food availability on
carbon enrichment in consumers.
4. Mount Graham red squirrels and introduced Abert’s squirrels partitioned the dietary
niche similarly to naturally syntopic populations. Removals had no apparent
effect. Diet of MGRS was more closely linked to availability of resources than to
presence of Abert’s squirrels.
5. Flexible dietary niche of introduced Abert’s squirrels may have allowed them to
exploit a resource opportunity in syntopy with MGRS. Variable food production of
MGRS habitat may intensify competition in poor years, and territorial defense
against non‐native Abert’s squirrels likely imposes fitness costs on individual
MGRS. Similarity in our model species’ diets may make MGRS more vulnerable to
competition if climate change eliminates the advantages of larder‐hoarding.
Where introduced populations of ecologically similar species are better adapted