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Mammalian mesopredators on islands directly impact both terrestrial and marine communities

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Medium-sized mammalian predators (i.e. mesopredators) on islands are known to have devastating effects on the abundance and diversity of terrestrial vertebrates. Mesopredators are often highly omnivorous, and on islands, may have access not only to terrestrial prey, but to marine prey as well, though impacts of mammalian mesopredators on marine communities have rarely been considered. Large apex predators are likely to be extirpated or absent on islands, implying a lack of top-down control of mesopredators that, in combination with high food availability from terrestrial and marine sources, likely exacerbates their impacts on island prey. We exploited a natural experiment—the presence or absence of raccoons (Procyon lotor) on islands in the Gulf Islands, British Columbia, Canada—to investigate the impacts that this key mesopredator has on both terrestrial and marine prey in an island system from which all native apex predators have been extirpated. Long-term monitoring of song sparrow (Melospiza melodia) nests showed raccoons to be the predominant nest predator in the Gulf Islands. To identify their community-level impacts, we surveyed the distribution of raccoons across 44 Gulf Islands, and then compared terrestrial and marine prey abundances on six raccoon-present and six raccoon-absent islands. Our results demonstrate significant negative effects of raccoons on terrestrial, intertidal, and shallow subtidal prey abundance, and point to additional community-level effects through indirect interactions. Our findings show that mammalian mesopredators not only affect terrestrial prey, but that, on islands, their direct impacts extend to the surrounding marine community.

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