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Communal roosting sites are potential ecological traps: experimental evidence in a Neotropical harvestman


Situations in which animals preferentially settle in low-quality habitat are referred to as ecological traps, and species that aggregate in response to conspecific cues, such as scent marks, that persist after the animals leave the area may be especially vulnerable. We tested this hypothesis on harvestmen (Prionostemma sp.) that roost communally in the rainforest understory. Based on evidence that these animals preferentially settle in sites marked with conspecific scent, we predicted that established aggregation sites would continue to attract new recruits even if the animals roosting there perished. To test this prediction, we simulated intense predation by repeatedly removing all individuals from 10 established roosts, and indeed, these sites continued to attract new harvestmen. A more likely reason for an established roost to become unsuitable is a loss of overstory canopy cover caused by treefalls. To investigate this scenario, without felling trees, we established 16 new communal roosts by translocating harvestmen into previously unused sites. Half the release sites were located in intact forest, and half were located in treefall gaps, but canopy cover had no significant effect on the recruitment rate. These results support the inference that communal roost sites are potential ecological traps for species that aggregate in response to conspecific scent. © 2014 Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg.

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