A Comparison of an Ecological Model and GIS Spatial Analysis to Describe Niche Partitioning Amongst Carrion Beetles in Nebraska

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Abstract

Carrion beetles depend on vertebrate carcasses to rear their young. Carcasses are a limited resource with patchy distribution, and there is an intense competition among many species for these carcasses. This situation is expected to lead to niche partitioning, such that different beetle species use different resources and thus escape direct competition. Our project used a geographic information system (GIS) and pitfall sampling to characterize carrion beetle preferences for soil texture and land use in Kearney County, Nebraska. The GIS was used to select sites where sampling was conducted using pitfall traps baited with rat carcasses. Attracted beetles were counted, identified to species, and released. The resulting data were used to construct occurrence maps of eleven species of carrion beetles by overlaying soil texture and land use. We then compared the results of EcoSim (an ecological simulation model of niche overlap) with GIS–generated maps of probability of carrion beetle occurrence. Our results are consistent with landscape–level niche partitioning by seven of the eleven examined species. Our application of GIS to the spatial analysis of carrion beetle distributions demonstrates how this technology can be used to test ecological and evolutionary hypotheses, predict habitat associations, and examine the effects of land use on a community of insects. This work could easily be extended to study the habitat preferences of the federally endangered American burying beetle, Nicrophorus americanus.

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