The effects of habitat type, carcass size, and scavenger species exclusion on vertebrate scavenging communities
Turner, Kelsey Leigh
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Carrion is a valuable nutritive resource that is used by a diversity of organisms, including vertebrates. Despite the importance of carrion to vertebrate communities, the complexities of scavenging ecology are poorly understood, especially in regards to the role of carcass size, habitat, and exclusion of scavenger guilds. My objectives were to address these knowledge gaps by conducting a comprehensive assessment of vertebrate scavenging dynamics in the southeastern U.S. In Chapter 2 I assess differences in carrion acquisition across a gradient of carcass sizes and habitats. Chapters 3-4 evaluate the exclusion of mammalian mesopredators and red imported fire ants (separately), both efficient scavengers, from carcasses to elucidate the response of the remaining scavenging community to their absences. Overall, this thesis represents a substantial advancement in our knowledge of vertebrate scavenging dynamics as well as how environmental attributes alter the composition and efficiency of vertebrate scavenging communities in terrestrial ecosystems.