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Proc Biol Sci. 2016 Mar 30;283(1827):20160144. doi: 10.1098/rspb.2016.0144.

Prairie dogs increase fitness by killing interspecific competitors.

Author information

1
Appalachian Laboratory, University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science, 301 Braddock Road, Frostburg, MD 21532, USA hoogland@al.umces.edu.
2
Department of Biological Sciences, University of Tulsa, 800 South Tucker Drive, Tulsa, OK 74104, USA.

Abstract

Interspecific competition commonly selects for divergence in ecology, morphology or physiology, but direct observation of interspecific competition under natural conditions is difficult. Herbivorous white-tailed prairie dogs (Cynomys leucurus) employ an unusual strategy to reduce interspecific competition: they kill, but do not consume, herbivorous Wyoming ground squirrels (Urocitellus elegans) encountered in the prairie dog territories. Results from a 6-year study in Colorado, USA, revealed that interspecific killing of ground squirrels by prairie dogs was common, involving 47 different killers; 19 prairie dogs were serial killers in the same or consecutive years, and 30% of female prairie dogs killed at least one ground squirrel over their lifetimes. Females that killed ground squirrels had significantly higher annual and lifetime fitness than non-killers, probably because of decreased interspecific competition for vegetation. Our results document the first case of interspecific killing of competing individuals unrelated to predation (IK) among herbivorous mammals in the wild, and show that IK enhances fitness for animals living under natural conditions.

KEYWORDS:

Cynomys leucurus; Urocitellus elegans; ground squirrel; interspecific competition; interspecific killing; lifetime fitness

PMID:
27009223
PMCID:
PMC4822469
DOI:
10.1098/rspb.2016.0144
[Indexed for MEDLINE]
Free PMC Article

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