Character displacement, sexual dimorphism, and morphological variation among British and Irish mustelids

Five native terrestrial mustelids are found in Great Britain. Only three of these occur in Ireland, Farmed American mink have recently established feral populations on both islands. We studied inter- and intraspecific size relationships, sexual size dimorphism, and morphological variation among these mustelids. We viewed each sex as a separate morphospecies, skull length as a measure of body size, and the upper canine tooth as the organ used to kill prey. Geographic variation was low in both islands, so we considered the mustelid population of each island a single unit. Community-wide character displacement (evidenced by equal size ratios) was found among British mustelids for canine diameter. For skull length it was seen only when the largely vermivorous badger was excluded. When we added feral mink the regular pattern disappeared, but when we substituted the mink for the polecat, which is now restricted to parts of Wales and adjacent England, community-wide character displacement was manifest. For Irish mustelids size ratios were not equal, but the pattern for canines was more regular than for skull lengths. Adding the local feral mink did not result in a regular pattern, but addition of the mink and exclusion of the badger yielded equal ratios for skull length but not for canines. These patterns plus published empirical data support a hypothesis of prey size partitioning. The significant differences in size between some of the British and Irish populations of the same morphospecies suggest the possibility of ecological release among Irish mustelids, whose populations originally derive from British ones. In particular, canine sexual size dimorphism is greater for Irish pine martens, stoats, and mink, as would be expected if there were fewer competitors. For the marten and the stoat, Irish females have evolved to be strikingly smaller than their British counterparts, in each case approximating the size of the male of a missing species (polecat for the marten, weasel for the stoat). For skull length there is no consistent pattern. Finally, morphological variation is greater in Ireland for five of six morphospecies, as predicted by the niche-variation hypothesis. [References: 101] 101

Author T. Dayan and D. Simberloff
Year 1994
Secondary title Ecology
Volume 75
Number 4
Pages 1063-1071