Bassi, Elena and Donaggio, Emanuela and Marcon, Andrea and Scandura, Massimo and Apollonio, Marco (2012) Trophic niche overlap and wild ungulate consumption by red fox and wolf in a mountain area in Italy. Mammalian Biology, Vol. 77 (5), p. 369-376. eISSN 1618-1476. Article.
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Red fox (Vulpes vulpes) and wolf (Canis lupus) are two widespread opportunistic predators living in simpatry in many areas. Nonetheless, scarce information are available on their trophic interactions. We investigated food habits of these two carnivores in a mountain area in Italy and assessed the extent of their trophic niche overlap, focusing on the consumption of wild ungulates. Thereby we analyzed the content of 669 red fox scats and 253 wolf scats collected between May 2008 and April 2009. Red foxes resulted to have a more than three times higher niche breadth than wolves. Vegetables, small mammals, wild ungulates, and invertebrates were major items (altogether 92% of volume) of the red fox annual diet. On the contrary wolf annual diet relied on wild ungulates (94% of volume) with wild boar (Sus scrofa) being the main food item. The degree of trophic niche overlap between the two species was found to be low (Pianka’s O= 0.356). Diet variation between the warm and the cold seasons was limited in both species, and higher in red fox than in wolf. The two canids appeared to use wild ungulates unevenly being the former more selective for younger preys, smaller in size (newborn piglets and roe deer Capreolus capreolus fawns), whereas the latter exhibited a preference for medium-sized and large ungulates (10–35 kg wild boar and adult roe deer). Even if wild ungulates represent the main shared food category, the different use of age/weight classes by the two predators, together with their possible consumption as carrions by red fox, suggests a very limited trophic competition between wolf and red fox. This study represents a contribution to the knowledge of trophic interaction in predator–prey systems where sympatric carnivores are present.
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