Foraging guild structure and niche characteristics of waterbirds in an epicontinental lake in Mexico

Research paper by María José Pérez-Crespo, Juanita Fonseca, Rubén Pineda-López, Eduardo Palacios, Carlos Lara

Indexed on: 09 Dec '13Published on: 09 Dec '13Published in: Zoological Studies


It was suggested that ecological patterns can be used to infer the nature of ecological processes (i.e., competition) that structure communities. Analysis of patterns of resource partitioning under the classical niche paradigm (competitive niche differentiation in exploiting limited resources) has traditionally been used to understand the structure of communities. On the contrary, neutral theory states that patterns result from neutral processes such as stochasticity and dispersal abilities. Thus, if any ecological process gives rise to a characteristic ecological pattern, the comparative study of patterns with appropriate neutral models may reveal the magnitude of that process. In this study, we analyzed patterns of resource utilization of a waterbird community in Lake Acuitlapilco, an epicontinental lake in central Mexico. In February 2011 to January 2012, we recorded foraging behaviors of waterbird species in two niche dimensions or axes: feeding technique and foraging habitat. The pattern of resource utilization was characterized by niche breath and niche overlap.Results showed that waterbird species in Lake Acuitlapilco were specialists in resource utilization patterns and therefore were vulnerable to fluctuations in resources, particularly feeding habitat. Niche overlaps were generally largest among species belonging to the same guild. To test competition as an ecological process that plays a role in the community structure, observed niche overlaps were compared with niche overlaps generated with null models of communities in the absence of competition using the RA4 randomization algorithm. Habitat and observed bidimensional overlaps were higher than those of randomly generated communities.Our study suggested that other processes can be used to predict resource utilization patterns instead of competition alone, as suggested by neutral theory. Future studies analyzing the mechanisms that structure waterbird communities should include the use of null models to support their conclusions.