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  1. Abstract

    Animals vary considerably in the amount of behavioral plasticity they exhibit in daily activity timing and temporal niche switching. It is not well understood how environmental factors drive changes in temporal activity or how interspecific differences in the plasticity of activity timing ultimately manifest in free-living animals. Here, we investigated the temporal structure and organization of activity patterns of two insular mammalian carnivores living in sympatry, the island fox (Urocyon littoralis) and island spotted skunk (Spilogale gracilis amphiala). Using collar-mounted accelerometers, we assessed the plasticity of behavioral activity rhythms in foxes and skunks by investigating how environmental factors drive the distribution of locomotor activity across the day and year, and subsequently examined the dynamics of temporal niche overlap between the two species. We documented that foxes express phenotypic plasticity in daily activity timing across the year, ranging from nocturnal to diurnal to crepuscular rhythms depending on the individual and time of year. Most notably, foxes increased the proportion of daytime activity as seasonal temperatures decreased. Overall, activity patterns of foxes were consistent with the circadian thermoenergetics hypothesis, which posits that animals that switch their patterns of activity do so to coincide with the most energetically favorable time of day. In contrast to foxes, skunks exhibited little behavioral plasticity, appearing strictly nocturnal across the year. While the duration of skunk activity bouts increased with the duration of night, timing of activity onset and offset extended into daytime hours during summer when the duration of darkness was shortest. Analysis of temporal niche overlap between foxes and skunks suggested that niche overlap was highest during summer and lowest during winter and was dictated primarily by temporal niche switching in foxes, rather than skunks. Collectively, our results highlight how interspecific asymmetries in behavioral plasticity drive dynamic patterns of temporal niche overlap within an island carnivore community.

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  2. Abstract

    The host‐associated microbiome is increasingly recognized as a critical player in health and immunity. Recent studies have shown that disruption of commensal microbial communities can contribute to disease pathogenesis and severity. Santa Catalina Island foxes (Urocyon littoralis catalinae) present a compelling system in which to examine microbial dynamics in wildlife due to their depauperate genomic structure and extremely high prevalence of ceruminous gland tumors. Although the precise cause is yet unknown, infection with ear mites (Otodectes cynotis) has been linked to chronic inflammation, which is associated with abnormal cell growth and tumor development. Given the paucity of genomic variation in these foxes, other dimensions of molecular diversity, such as commensal microbes, may be critical to host response and disease pathology. We characterized the host‐associated microbiome across six body sites of Santa Catalina Island foxes, and performed differential abundance testing between healthy and mite‐infected ear canals. We found that mite infection was significantly associated with reduced microbial diversity and evenness, with the opportunistic pathogenStaphylococcus pseudintermediusdominating the ear canal community. These results suggest that secondary bacterial infection may contribute to the sustained inflammation associated with tumor development. As the emergence of antibiotic resistant strains remains a concern of the medical, veterinary, and conservation communities, uncovering high relative abundance ofS. pseudintermediusprovides critical insight into the pathogenesis of this complex system. Through use of culture‐independent sequencing techniques, this study contributes to the broader effort of applying a more inclusive understanding of molecular diversity to questions within wildlife disease ecology.

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