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Title:   Changes in ecological conditions may influence intraguild competition: inferring interaction patterns of snow leopard with co-predators

Author:   Pal, R., Panwar, A., Goyal, S. P., Sathyakumar, S.

Abstract:   Background: Large-scale changes in habitat conditions due to human modifications and climate change require management practices to consider how species communities can alter amidst these changes. Understanding species interactions across the gradient of space, anthropogenic pressure, and season provide the opportunity to anticipate possible dynamics in the changing scenarios. We studied the interspecific interactions of carnivore species in a high-altitude ecosystem over seasonal (summer and winter) and resource gradients (livestock grazing) to assess the impact of changing abiotic and biotic settings on coexistence.
Methods: The study was conducted in the Upper Bhagirathi basin, Western Himalaya, India. We analyzed around 4 years of camera trap monitoring data to understand seasonal spatial and temporal interactions of the snow leopard with common leopard and woolly wolf were assessed in the greater and trans-Himalayan habitats, respectively. We used two species occupancy models to assess spatial interactions, and circadian activity patterns were used to assess seasonal temporal overlap amongst carnivores. In addition, we examined scats to understand the commonalities in prey selection.
Results: The result showed that although snow leopard and wolves depend on the same limited prey species and show high temporal overlap, habitat heterogeneity and differential habitat use facilitate co-occurrence between these two predators. Snow leopard and common leopard were spatially independent in the summer. Conversely, the common leopard negatively influences the space use of snow leopard in the winter. Limited prey resources (lack of livestock), restricted space (due to snow cover), and similar activity patterns in winter might result in strong competition, causing these species to avoid each other on a spatial scale. The study showed that in addition to species traits and size, ecological settings also play a significant role in deciding the intensity of competition between large carnivores. Climate change and habitat shifts are predicted to increase the spatial overlap between snow leopard and co-predators in the future. In such scenarios, wolves and snow leopards may coexist in a topographically diverse environment, provided sufficient prey are available. However, shifts in tree line might lead to severe competition between common leopards and snow leopards, which could be detrimental to the latter. Further monitoring of resource use across abiotic and biotic environments may improve our understanding of how changing ecological conditions can affect resource partitioning between snow leopards and predators.


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