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Oecologia. 2011 Nov;167(3):623-33. doi: 10.1007/s00442-011-2008-y. Epub 2011 May 20.

Breeding state and season affect interspecific interaction types: indirect resource competition and direct interference.

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Unit of Animal Ecology, University of Potsdam, Potsdam, Germany.


Indirect resource competition and interference are widely occurring mechanisms of interspecific interactions. We have studied the seasonal expression of these two interaction types within a two-species, boreal small mammal system. Seasons differ by resource availability, individual breeding state and intraspecific social system. Live-trapping methods were used to monitor space use and reproduction in 14 experimental populations of bank voles Myodes glareolus in large outdoor enclosures with and without a dominant competitor, the field vole Microtus agrestis. We further compared vole behaviour using staged dyadic encounters in neutral arenas in both seasons. Survival of the non-breeding overwintering bank voles was not affected by competition. In the spring, the numbers of male bank voles, but not of females, were reduced significantly in the competition populations. Bank vole home ranges expanded with vole density in the presence of competitors, indicating food limitation. A comparison of behaviour between seasons based on an analysis of similarity revealed an avoidance of costly aggression against opponents, independent of species. Interactions were more aggressive during the summer than during the winter, and heterospecific encounters were more aggressive than conspecific encounters. Based on these results, we suggest that interaction types and their respective mechanisms are not either-or categories and may change over the seasons. During the winter, energy constraints and thermoregulatory needs decrease direct aggression, but food constraints increase indirect resource competition. Direct interference appears in the summer, probably triggered by each individual's reproductive and hormonal state and the defence of offspring against conspecific and heterospecific intruders. Both interaction forms overlap in the spring, possibly contributing to spring declines in the numbers of subordinate species.

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