Disappearance of an ecosystem engineer, the white-lipped peccary (Tayassu pecari), leads to density compensation and ecological release.
Given the rate of biodiversity loss, there is an urgent need to understand community-level responses to extirpation events, with two prevailing hypotheses. On one hand, the loss of an apex predator leads to an increase in primary prey species, triggering a trophic cascade of other changes within the community, while density compensation and ecological release can occur because of reduced competition for resources and absence of direct aggression. White-lipped peccary (Tayassu pecari-WLP), a species that typically co-occurs with collared peccary (Pecari tajacu), undergo major population crashes-often taking 20 to 30-years for populations to recover. Using a temporally replicated camera trapping dataset, in both a pre- and post- WLP crash, we explore how WLP disappearance alters the structure of a Neotropical vertebrate community with findings indicative of density compensation. White-lipped peccary were the most frequently detected terrestrial mammal in the 2006-2007 pre-population crash period but were undetected during the 2019 post-crash survey. Panthera onca (jaguar) camera trap encounter rates declined by 63% following the WLP crash, while collared peccary, puma (Puma concolor), red-brocket deer (Mazama americana) and short-eared dog (Atelocynus microtis) all displayed greater encounter rates (490%, 150%, 280%, and 500% respectively), and increased in rank-abundance. Absence of WLP was correlated with ecological release changes in habitat-use for six species, with the greatest increase in use in the preferred floodplain habitat of the WLP. Surprisingly, community-weighted mean trait distributions (body size, feeding guild and nocturnality) did not change, suggesting functional redundancy in diverse tropical mammal assemblages.
Whitworth, A; Beirne, C; Basto, A; Flatt, E; Tobler, M; Powell, G; Terborgh, J; Forsyth, A
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