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Cache pilfering in a granivore guild: Implications for reintroduction management


Reintroduction programs that release endangered species back into areas from which they have been extirpated rarely take competitive interactions between species into account. The endangered Pacific pocket mouse (Perognathus longimembris pacificus) is being reintroduced to parts of its former range where multiple species of native rodents have overlapping diets. The granivorous species in this foraging guild compete for seeds exploitatively and through direct interference interactions, and pocket mice are the smallest and least dominant species in the guild. Repeated aggressive interactions from resident heterospecifics could lower the chances of reintroduced pocket mice establishing burrows during the post-release settlement period. As such, temporarily reducing the density of competing species through exclusionary fencing might be an advisable reintroduction strategy, in combination with other interventions, such as predator exclusion. The presence of other members of the seed-foraging guild, however, could have a net benefit for pocket mice, if the pocket mice pilfer from the other species’ seed caches more than the other species pilfer from their caches. To test the frequency of cache pilfering between species, we conducted a field experiment with fluorescent dyed seeds. Two of 10 pocket mice pilfered from heterospecifics, but only 1 of 33 heterospecifics pilfered from pocket mice. In a field-enclosure experiment, we could not conclude that any of the 4 species tested used heterospecific scent to find (or avoid) seed caches, and pocket mice were less efficient in pilfering from artificial caches, recovering fewer seeds than the larger species. We did not find strong evidence that Pacific pocket mice benefit from living in sympatry with larger, dominant species. Although further research is needed to elucidate the relationship between heterospecific density and the prevalence of cache pilfering, a conservative reintroduction approach would be to select receiver sites with low densities of known competitors to benefit pocket mice during the critical post-release establishment phase. © 2019 The Wildlife Society.

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