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Colonization of a novel depauperate habitat leads to trophic niche shifts in three desert lizard species

Des Roches, Simone, Harmon, Luke J., Rosenblum, Erica B.
Oikos 2016 v.125 no.3 pp. 343-353
carbon, diet, ecosystems, food chain, habitats, lizards, nitrogen, phylogeny, predators, soil, stable isotopes, stomach, variance, New Mexico
In a novel, depauperate ecosystem, colonizing species may experience changes in their trophic niche as a result of a new resource base and fewer competitors and predators. To examine trophic niche shifts of recent colonists, we focused on three ecologically and phylogenetically divergent lizard species that inhabit both the geologically distinctive depauperate habitat of White Sands and the surrounding Chihuahuan ‘dark soil’ desert in New Mexico. In White Sands the three species comprise the entire lizard community, whereas in the dark soils habitat, they constitute less than half of the lizard community abundance. As a result, we hypothesized that the three focal species would collectively represent a greater variety of trophic positions in the White Sands habitat than in the dark soils habitat. We hypothesized that the extent of shifts in each species’ trophic position would parallel diet and ecomorphology differences between habitats. To test these hypotheses, we combined analysis of lizard stomach contents with carbon and nitrogen stable isotopes in the context of previously published ecomorphology measurements. Stable isotope data indicated that as predicted, species were more different from one another in White Sands than in dark soils, suggesting community‐wide ecological release. Overall, all species were lower on the White Sands food chain; however, only one species decreased trophic level significantly, one increased trophic level variance, and one did not change significantly. Furthermore, stomach content data paralleled both stable isotope and ecomorphological data, showing different degrees of dietary overlap between habitats, depending on the species. That species’ differences in trophic ecology also correspond with ecomorphological differences suggests that these factors are either causally linked or collectively responding to similar ecological pressures, such as competition. By examining diet, trophic position, and ecomorphology of three colonist species, we demonstrate both species‐specific and community‐wide trophic differences in adjacent, but distinct habitats.