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Trophic Niche Differentiation and Microhabitat Utilization in a Species-rich Montane Forest Small Mammal Community of Eastern Madagascar



Unraveling the mechanisms facilitating species coexistence in communities is a central theme in ecology. Species-rich tropical mammal communities provide excellent settings to explore such mechanisms as they often harbor numerous congeneric species with close phylogenetic relationships. Explicit tests for the mechanisms that allow syntopic occurrence in these assemblages, however, is often hampered because of the difficulty in obtaining detailed ecological data on the organisms making up the community. Using stable nitrogen and carbon ratios of hair samples, we examine whether trophic niche differentiation and microhabitat segregation explain the coexistence of 21 small mammal species at a montane humid forest site in eastern Madagascar. Overall, the community was trophically diverse and covered wide isotopic space. This diversity was based on: (1) a multi-layered trophic community structure with mainly frugivorous-granivorous rodents (subfamily Nesomyinae) as primary consumers and insectivorous tenrecs (family Tenrecidae) as secondary and tertiary consumers; (2) trophic segregation of rodents and tenrecs with the latter occupying different microhabitats; and (3) a dense and regular packing of species in the community. The 12 locally occurring Microgale shrew tenrecs (subfamily Oryzorictinae) showed high trophic redundancy, but were maximally spaced from each other within the trophic space covered by the genus. Results of stable isotope analysis suggest that in combination the differentiation of microhabitats and trophic niches explain the coexistence of small mammals in this community. Congeneric species appeared to be under more intense competition compared with non-congeneric species and their coexistence can only partly be explained by trophic and microhabitat niche segregation.