Food caching and differential cache pilferage: a field study of coexistence of sympatric kangaroo rats and pocket mice
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Ecologists studying sympatric heteromyid rodents have sought evidence for species differences in primary foraging abilities and preferences and/or behavioural responses to predation risk in order to explain coexistence. The present field study was conducted to test the hypothesis that another factor may be involved, namely differences in caching patterns, which may result in differences in vulnerability to pilferage. We examined differences between kangaroo rats (Dipodomys merriami) and pocket mice (Chaetodipus spp.) in foraging, caching and pilferage behaviour. Specifically, we examined interactions at food patches, differential food caching patterns, and differential vulnerability to cache pilferage. Observations conducted at artificial seed patches showed that kangaroo rats dominated access to the patches by arriving and foraging first and by chasing pocket mice away. Individually provisioned pocket mice stored most seeds in underground burrows (larder hoarding), whereas kangaroo rats predominantly cached seeds in small, spatially dispersed caches in shallow pits in the surface of the sand (scatter hoarding). Pocket mice pilfered from each other as well as from the kangaroo rats, but the kangaroo rats rarely pilfered, and the only instance was from another kangaroo rat. Kangaroo rats and pocket mice were both vulnerable to cache pilferage. The results suggest that coexistence of kangaroo rats and pocket mice may be facilitated by a trade-off between primary harvest ability and the ability to exploit a resource that has been processed by another species, namely pilferage ability.
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