Demography and habitat availability in territorial occupancy of two competing species

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Although metapopulation dynamics have become the focus of considerable theoretical research, little attention has been paid to its role when examining the coexistence of species. When two or more species live in the same patch network, interspecific interactions may affect their dispersal, colonization and extinction rates, and it may be possible to incorporate competition affecting these parameters in metapopulation models. Here, we extend the territorial occupancy model proposed by Lande to competing species. Our model estimates an equilibrium proportion of habitat occupancy as a function of life-history parameters, dispersal behavior, habitat suitability and interspecific interactions. Moreover, it could prove to be useful as a tool in the assessment of potential management decisions. We apply the model to the golden Aquila chrysaetos and the Bonelli's eagle Hieraaetus fasciatus, two territorial raptors that coexist in the Mediterranean region, sharing food and nesting habitats. Over the last twenty years, while the golden eagle has maintained and, in some cases, increased its breeding numbers, Bonelli's eagle has suffered a marked decline, with many territories abandoned by the latter now occupied by the former. This suggests that the dynamics of these species could be influenced by interspecific competition. The model identified the relative importance of competition (stable equilibrium that allows long-term coexistence) and predicted that, when habitat overlap is slight as in the study area, intraspecific dynamics are much more important for the persistence of each species than interspecific ones. Our results suggest that the improvement of territorial bird survival and productivity are the most urgently needed actions to be undertaken in the case of the golden eagle, while for Bonelli's eagle efforts should be focused on improving territorial and non-territorial bird survival. As habitat conservation measures, the proportion of suitable exclusive habitat should be increased for both species.

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