Interspecific Asymmetries in Behavioral Plasticity Drive Seasonal Patterns of Temporal Niche Partitioning in an Island Carnivore Community

Victor Y. Zhang, Calypso N. Gagorik, Lara J. Brenner, Christina L. Boser, Tad C. Theimer, C. Loren Buck

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


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.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)998-1011
Number of pages14
JournalIntegrative and Comparative Biology
Issue number4
StatePublished - Oct 1 2022

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Animal Science and Zoology
  • Plant Science


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