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  1. Animal foraging and competition are defined by the partitioning of three primary niche axes: space, time, and resources. Human disturbance is rapidly altering the spatial and temporal niches of animals, but the impact of humans on resource consumption and partitioning—arguably the most important niche axis—is poorly understood. We assessed resource consumption and trophic niche partitioning as a function of human disturbance at the individual, population, and community levels using stable isotope analysis of 684 carnivores from seven communities in North America. We detected significant responses to human disturbance at all three levels of biological organization: individual carnivores consumed more human food subsidies in disturbed landscapes, leading to significant increases in trophic niche width and trophic niche overlap among species ranging from mesocarnivores to apex predators. Trophic niche partitioning is the primary mechanism regulating coexistence in many communities, and our results indicate that humans fundamentally alter resource niches and competitive interactions among terrestrial consumers. Among carnivores, niche overlap can trigger interspecific competition and intraguild predation, while the consumption of human foods significantly increases human–carnivore conflict. Our results suggest that human disturbances, especially in the form of food subsidies, may threaten carnivores by increasing the probability of both interspecific competition and human–carnivore conflict. Ultimately, these findings illustrate a potential decoupling of predator–prey dynamics, with impacts likely cascading to populations, communities, and ecosystems.

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  2. Abstract

    Island ecosystems are globally threatened, and efforts to restore historical communities are widespread. Such conservation efforts should be informed by accurate assessments of historical community composition to establish appropriate restoration targets. Isle Royale National Park is one of the most researched island ecosystems in the world, yet little is actually known about the biogeographic history of most Isle Royale taxa. To address this uncertainty and inform restoration targets, we determined the phylogeographic history of American martens (Martes americana), a species rediscovered on Isle Royale 76 years after presumed extirpation. We characterized the genetic composition of martens throughout the Great Lakes region using nuclear and mitochondrial markers, identified the source of Isle Royale martens using genetic structure analyses, and used demographic bottleneck tests to evaluate (eliminate redundancy of test). 3 competing colonization scenarios. Martens exhibited significant structure regionally, including a distinct Isle Royale cluster, but mitochondrial sequences revealed no monophyletic clades or evolutionarily significant units. Rather, martens were historically extirpated and recolonized Isle Royale from neighbouring Ontario, Canada in the late 20thcentury. These findings illustrate the underappreciated dynamics of island communities, underscore the importance of historical biogeography for establishing restoration baselines, and provide optimism for extirpated and declining Isle Royale vertebrates whose reintroductions have been widely debated.

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  3. The relationship between body size and latitude has been the focus of dozens of studies across many species. However, results of testing Bergmann’s rule — that organisms in colder climates or at higher latitudes possess larger body sizes — have been inconsistent across studies. We investigated whether snowshoe hares (Lepus americanus Erxleben, 1777) follow Bergmann’s rule by investigating differences in body mass using data from six published studies and from data of 755 individual hares captured from 10 populations across North America covering 26° of north latitude. We also explored alternative hypotheses related to variation in hare body mass, including winter severity, length of growing season, elevation, and snow depth. We found body mass of hares varied throughout their range, but the drivers of body mass differed based on geographic location. In northern populations, females followed Bergmann’s rule, whereas males did not. In northern populations, male mass was related to mean snow depth. In contrast, in southern populations, body mass of both sexes was related to length of the growing season. These differences likely represent variation in the drivers of selection. Specifically, in the north, a large body size is beneficial to conserve heat because of low winter temperatures, whereas in the south, it is likely due to increased food supply associated with longer growing seasons. 
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  4. Abstract

    Winter climate warming is rapidly leading to changes in snow depth and soil temperatures across mid‐ and high‐latitude ecosystems, with important implications for survival and distribution of species that overwinter beneath the snow. Amphibians are a particularly vulnerable group to winter climate change because of the tight coupling between their body temperature and metabolic rate. Here, we used a mechanistic microclimate model coupled to an animal biophysics model to predict the spatially explicit effects of future climate change on the wintering energetics of a freeze‐tolerant amphibian, the Wood Frog (Lithobates sylvaticus), across its distributional range in the eastern United States. Our below‐the‐snow microclimate simulations were driven by dynamically downscaled climate projections from a regional climate model coupled to a one‐dimensional model of the Laurentian Great Lakes. We found that warming soil temperatures and decreasing winter length have opposing effects on Wood Frog winter energy requirements, leading to geographically heterogeneous implications for Wood Frogs. While energy expenditures and peak body ice content were predicted to decline in Wood Frogs across most of our study region, we identified an area of heightened energetic risk in the northwestern part of the Great Lakes region where energy requirements were predicted to increase. Because Wood Frogs rely on body stores acquired in fall to fuel winter survival and spring breeding, increased winter energy requirements have the potential to impact local survival and reproduction. Given the geographically variable and intertwined drivers of future under‐snow conditions (e.g., declining snow depths, rising air temperatures, shortening winters), spatially explicit assessments of species energetics and risk will be important to understanding the vulnerability of subnivium‐adapted species.

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  5. Abstract

    Niche conservatism—the retention of ecological traits across space and time—is an emerging topic of interest because it can predict responses to global change. The conservation of Grinnellian niche characteristics, like species‐habitat associations, has received widespread attention, but the conservation of Eltonian traits such as consumer–resource interactions remains poorly understood.

    The inability to quantify Eltonian niches through space and time has historically limited the assessment of Eltonian niche conservatism and the dynamics of foraging across populations. Consequently, the relative influence of endogenous factors like phylogeny versus exogenous features like environmental context has rarely been addressed.

    We tested Eltonian niche conservatism using a paired design to compare foraging among four populations of American martensMartes americanaand Pacific martensMartes caurina, morphologically and ecologically similar sister taxa that are allopatrically distributed throughout western North America. We developed a three‐stage isotopic framework and then quantified dietary niche overlap between the sister species and paired island‐mainland sites to assess the relative influence of endogenous (i.e., species) versus exogenous (i.e., environment) factors on Eltonian niches. First, we calculated pairwise dietary overlap in scaled δ‐space using standard ellipses. We then estimated proportional diets (“p‐space”) for individuals using isotopic mixing models and developed a novel utilization distribution overlap approach to quantify proportional dietary overlap. Lastly, we estimated population‐level proportional diets and quantified the differential use of functional prey groups across sites.

    We detected no pairwise overlap of dietary niches in δ‐space, and distributions of individual diets in p‐space revealed little overlap in core diets across populations. All pairwise comparisons of individuals revealed significant differences in diet, and population‐level comparisons detected contrasting use of functional prey groups.

    We developed a multi‐faceted isotopic framework to quantify Eltonian niches and found limited evidence of Eltonian niche conservatism across carnivore populations. Our findings are consistent with the growing recognition of dietary plasticity in consumers and suggest that consumer–resource dynamics are largely driven by exogenous environmental factors like land cover and community composition. These results illustrate the context‐dependent nature of foraging and indicate consumer functionality can be dynamic.

    Aplain language summaryis available for this article.

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