Being the underdog: an elusive small carnivore uses space with prey and time without enemies


  • Editor: Nigel Bennett


Rare and elusive species are seldom the first choice of model for the study of ecological questions, yet rarity and elusiveness often emerge from ecological processes. One of these processes is interspecific killing, the most extreme form of interference competition among carnivores. Subdominant species can avoid falling victim to other carnivores through spatial and/or temporal separation. The smallest carnivore species, including members of the Mustelidae, are typically the most threatened by other predators but are also exceedingly challenging to study in the wild. As a consequence, we have only limited knowledge of how the most at-risk members of carnivore communities deal with being both hunters and hunted. We explored whether activity and space use of a little-known small carnivore, the Altai mountain weasel Mustela altaica, reflect the activity and distribution of its main prey, pika Ochotona sp., and two sympatric predators, the stone marten Martes foina and the red fox Vulpes vulpes. Spatial and temporal patterns of photographic captures in Pakistan's northern mountains suggest that weasels may cope with being both predator and prey by frequenting areas used by pikas while exhibiting diurnal activity that contrasts with that of the mostly nocturnal/crepuscular stone marten and red fox. Camera trap studies are now common and are staged in many different ecosystems. The data yielded offer an opportunity not only to fill knowledge gaps concerning less-studied species but also to non-invasively test ecological hypotheses linked with rarity and elusiveness.