Species loss, delayed numerical responses, and functional compensation in an antbird guild

Authors

  • Janeene M. Touchton,

    Corresponding author
    1. University of British Columbia, Department of Zoology, 6270 University Boulevard, Vancouver, British Columbia V6T 1Z4 Canada
    2. Princeton University, Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, 106 Guyot Hall, Princeton, New Jersey 08544 USA
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  • James N. M. Smith

    1. University of British Columbia, Department of Zoology, 6270 University Boulevard, Vancouver, British Columbia V6T 1Z4 Canada
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Abstract

When a community loses species through fragmentation, its total food consumption may drop. Compensatory responses of remaining species, whereby survivors assume roles of extinct competitors, may reduce the impact of species loss through numerical or functional responses. We measured compensatory responses in two remaining antbird species on Barro Colorado Island, Panama, four decades after the loss of their dominant competitor, the Ocellated Antbird, Phaenostictus mcleannani. We compared current abundances and behavior of these two species on Barro Colorado to those reported before the island lost Ocellated Antbirds, and to those in a nearby mainland population where all three species still exist as a space-for-time substitution. The smaller, more subordinate Spotted Antbird, Hylophylax naevioides, responded far more strongly than the larger Bicolored Antbird, Gymnopithys leucaspis, which is functionally more like the Ocellated Antbird. Islandwide density of Spotted Antbirds has more than doubled since the loss of Ocellated Antbirds. Moreover, Spotted Antbirds now spend so much more of their time following ant swarms that their metabolic biomass at these swarms has more than tripled since Ocellated Antbirds disappeared. These responses in Spotted Antbirds were apparently delayed by >20 years. Bicolored Antbirds have not increased substantially in islandwide density or metabolic biomass at ant swarms. We hypothesize that behavioral flexibility, as shown by Spotted Antbirds on Barro Colorado Island, is a major factor governing the extent to which fragmented ecosystems can buffer the impacts of species loss.

Ancillary