Where have all the cavies gone? Causes and consequences of predation by the minor grison on a wild cavy population
Oikos, 105:3, 489–500 (2004)
We investigated whether predation by the minor grison (Galictis cuja, a small mustelid) played a key role in limiting a wild cavy population (Cavia magna), ultimately leading to its local extinction. Radio-telemetry and capture-mark-recapture techniques were used to estimate grison predation rates (kill rates), time-specific probabilities of apparent mortality (population loss rate), overall mortality and grison predation for the cavy population. Additionally, we present data on alternative prey species, grison diet and reproduction to show potential proximate mechanisms of grison predation on wild cavies. The predictions specified were mostly confirmed: (1) grison predation was responsible for almost 80% of the cavies killed by known predators; (2) grison predation probabilities paralleled those of overall mortality of cavies over time; and (3) also those of the apparent mortality of the population. Thus, the population dynamics and the local extinction of the cavy population were not due to emigration processes. (4) Grison predation rates were not density-dependent, but showed pronounced peaks during the austral summer. The grison mainly preyed on small mammals: two water-rat species and the wild cavies. When the availability of alternative prey decreased in summer, the grison appeared to specialise on cavies. The onset of grison reproduction was somewhat delayed in relation to the onset of cavy reproduction. The lack of alternative prey coincided with high grison food demands due to reproduction, leading to a very high predation pressure ultimately resulting in the local extinction of the cavy population. We conclude that grison predation was indeed the main factor driving changes of the cavy population studied and speculate why caviomorph rodents might be especially susceptible to local extinction processes.