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Seasonal shift in the foraging niche of a tropical avian resident: resource competition at work?


This study examined the foraging behaviour of a resident bird species, the rufous-capped warbler (RCWA, Basileuterus rufifrons). in a shaded-coffee farm in Chiapas, Mexico. Unlike many resident species that use shaded-coffee agroecosystems seasonally. RCWAs do not move to other habitats when migrants are present. RCWA foraging was compared when migrant birds were present (dry season) and absent (wet season). It was hypothesized that RCWAs would exhibit a seasonal foraging niche shift because of resource competition with migrants. Observations from both the canopy and coffee understorey show that RCWAs foraged almost equally in both vegetative layers during the wet season although they were more successful foraging in the canopy. In the dry season, migrants foraged primarily in the canopy and RCWAs shifted so that 80% of RCWA foraging manoeuvres were in the understorey. At that time RCWAs foraged less successfully in both vegetative layers. Avian predation in the dry season was found to reduce densities of arthropods by 47-79% in the canopy, as opposed to 4-5% in the understorey. In the canopy, availability of large (> 5 mm in length) arthropods decreased by 58% from the wet to dry season. Such resource reductions could have caused the RCWA foraging niche shift yet other alternative or additional hypotheses are discussed. Shifts in foraging niche may be a widespread mechanism for some small insectivorous residents to avoid seasonal competition with abundant migrant species.

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