Resource partitioning of sympatric small mammals in an African forest-grassland vegetation mosaic


Corresponding author.


It is often hypothesized that two species competing for the same resource cannot stably coexist unless they partition their resources in space and time. More recently stable isotope analyses have complemented traditional, observation-based niche research by conceptualizing many of the characteristics of communities, for example, trophic niche width and the partitioning of resources. Here we quantify resource partitioning of sympatric small mammal species in an African ecosystem by analysing stable isotope ratios of hair collected from a South African forest-grassland vegetation mosaic, and combine this with known spatial and temporal behavioural data to interpret community competition and resource partitioning. We observe niche separation to different degrees across the entire community, with different species displaying either unique isotopic dietary preferences, or partitioning resources in space and/or time. δ13C values were more enriched in species that inhabited afromontane grassland compared with those that inhabited afromontane forest, a reflection of the dominant vegetation in each habitat. Contrary to expectations, arboreal rodents occupied higher trophic positions than terrestrial rodents and approaching δ15N values similar to insectivorous shrews, suggesting that arboreal rodents feed on items such as arthropods enriched in 15N. While grassland species display phenotypic plasticity in terms of dietary preferences, small mammals that occurred in forests display narrow niche preferences, suggesting these species may be particularly sensitive to habitat modifications. Our results illustrate that the use of stable isotopes can be used in conjunction with spatial and temporal behavioural knowledge to elucidate resource partitioning in small African mammal communities.