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    Broad and flexible stable isotope niches in invasive non-native Rattus spp. in anthropogenic and natural habitats of central eastern Madagascar.

    BMC Ecol 2017 04 17;17(1):16. Epub 2017 Apr 17.
    Association Vahatra, BP 3972, 101, Antananarivo, Madagascar.
    Background: Rodents of the genus Rattus are among the most pervasive and successful invasive species, causing major vicissitudes in native ecological communities. A broad and flexible generalist diet has been suggested as key to the invasion success of Rattus spp. Here, we use an indirect approach to better understand foraging niche width, plasticity, and overlap within and between introduced Rattus spp. in anthropogenic habitats and natural humid forests of Madagascar.

    Results: Based on stable carbon and nitrogen isotope values measured in hair samples of 589 individual rodents, we found that Rattus rattus had an extremely wide foraging niche, encompassing the isotopic space covered by a complete endemic forest-dwelling Malagasy small mammal community. Comparisons of Bayesian standard ellipses, as well as (multivariate) mixed-modeling analyses, revealed that the stable isotope niche of R. rattus tended to change seasonally and differed between natural forests and anthropogenic habitats, indicating plasticity in feeding niches. In co-occurrence, R. rattus and Rattus norvegicus partitioned feeding niches. Isotopic mismatch of signatures of individual R. rattus and the habitat in which they were captured, indicate frequent dispersal movements for this species between natural forest and anthropogenic habitats.

    Conclusions: Since R. rattus are known to transmit a number of zoonoses, potentially affecting communities of endemic small mammals, as well as humans, these movements presumably increase transmission potential. Our results suggest that due to their generalist diet and potential movement between natural forest and anthropogenic habitats, Rattus spp. might affect native forest-dependent Malagasy rodents as competitors, predators, and disease vectors. The combination of these effects helps explain the invasion success of Rattus spp. and the detrimental effects of this genus on the endemic Malagasy rodent fauna.
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