Apex predators can shape communities via cascading top–down effects, but the degree to which such effects depend on predator life history traits is largely unknown. Within carnivore guilds, complex hierarchies of dominance facilitate coexistence, whereby subordinate species avoid dominant counterparts by partitioning space, time, or both. We investigated whether a major life history trait (hibernation) in an apex carnivore (black bears Ursus americanus) mediated its top–down effects on the spatio-temporal dynamics of three sympatric mesocarnivore species (coyotes Canis latrans, bobcats Lynx rufus, and gray foxes Urocyon cinereoargenteus) across a 15,000 km2 landscape in the western USA. We compared top–down, bottom–up, and environmental effects on these mesocarnivores using an integrated modeling approach. Black bears exerted top–down effects that varied as a function of hibernation and were stronger than bottom–up or environmental impacts. High black bear activity in summer and fall appeared to buffer the most subordinate mesocarnivore (gray foxes) from competition with dominant mesocarnivores (coyotes and bobcats), which were in turn released by black bear hibernation in winter and early spring. The mesocarnivore responses occurred in space (i.e., altered occupancy and site visitation intensity) rather than time (i.e., diel activity patterns unaffected). These results suggest that the spatio-temporal dynamics of mesocarnivores in this system were principally shaped by a spatial predator cascade of interference competition mediated by black bear hibernation. Thus, certain life history traits of apex predators might facilitate coexistence among competing species over broad time scales, with complex implications for lower trophic levels.
- Carnivore guild
- Interference competition