Habitat selection and coexistence of the Alpine chamois (Rupicapra rupicapra) and Himalayan tahr (Hemitragus jemlahicus) in the eastern Southern Alps, New Zealand

Authors

  • David M. Forsyth

    Corresponding author
    1. Department of Entomology and Animal Ecology, P.O. Box 84, Lincoln University, Canterbury, New Zealand
      All correspondence to present address: Landcare Research, Gerald Street, P.O. Box 69, Lincoln, New Zealand. E-mail: forsythd@landcare.cri.nz
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All correspondence to present address: Landcare Research, Gerald Street, P.O. Box 69, Lincoln, New Zealand. E-mail: forsythd@landcare.cri.nz

Abstract

Numerous field studies have attempted to assess competition between ungulates through the analysis of resource overlap. However, interpreting the results of these studies has been problematic because low overlap may be the outcome of historical competition and high overlap will result in competition only when that resource becomes limiting. In New Zealand, increasing densities of introduced Himalayan tahr Hemitragus jemlahicus have competitively excluded introduced Alpine chamois Rupicapra rupicapra, but where densities of tahr have been reduced the two species can coexist. This study evaluated the role of habitat selection in the coexistence of these two recently sympatric ungulates in Carneys Creek, eastern Southern Alps, New Zealand. Seasonal habitat selection was estimated by observing unmarked male tahr, female tahr and chamois monthly for 25 months. The proportional availability of six habitats (grassland, grass bluff, rock bluff, shrubland, scree and snow) was measured from aerial photographs taken in each of the four seasons. Although the null hypothesis that tahr and chamois select habitats similarly was rejected in three of four seasons, there was high overlap in preference for grassland and shrubland, and avoidance of scree and snow. Tahr were more often observed in grass bluff and rock bluff than were chamois. Overlap in habitat selection was greatest during winter when snow dominated the landscape, reducing the availability of vegetated habitats. Using Hurlbert's statistic, the niche breadth of chamois was significantly smaller than that of tahr in all seasons except autumn, in which they were similar. These results, together with anecdotal evidence from Carneys Creek, suggest that chamois increase their habitat specialization in the presence of tahr. Although differences in habitat selection are likely to have contributed to the coexistence of chamois with tahr, even relatively small increases in tahr density in some seasons could be expected to exclude chamois from some habitats in Carneys Creek.

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