Table_2_Woody Cover Mediates Fox and Gray Squirrel Interactions.DOCX
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Human activities are changing the environments that animal communities utilize, altering competition and co-existence dynamics as well as changing species distributions. A global consequence of human activity is increased woody cover, which changes environmental conditions on landscape, local, and fine spatial scales. These multi-scale processes are likely to change species interactions and distributions in unexpected ways. To elucidate these effects, we investigated the co-occurrence of two interacting species in a rapidly changing ecosystem. Eastern fox (Sciurus niger) and gray (Sciurus carolinensis) squirrels occur sympatrically throughout the southeastern United States. We used single-season, two-species occupancy modeling to understand what factors influence competition between the squirrels at three spatial scales. We found evidence that fox and gray squirrels compete at fine scales but not at local and landscape scales. The best model to explain fox and gray squirrel co-occurrence at fine scales was an additive fine-scale understory and tree canopy closure model. Increased fine-scale canopy closure correlated with increased fox and gray squirrel occupancy, while increased fine-scale understory cover correlated with decreased gray and fox squirrel occupancy. Fox squirrel occupancy probability declined in the presence of gray squirrels. The intensity of interaction was modified by fine-scale canopy cover and understory density. These findings support the hypothesis that species interactions can be an important factor in structuring biotic communities; however, the strength of the effect changes across spatial scales. Our results support the importance of considering species interactions at multiple scales when predicting and addressing changes in community composition in human modified and managed systems.
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