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Trophic Resource Use by Sympatric vs. Allopatric Pelomedusid Turtles in West African Forest Waterbodies

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Organisms that are similar in size, morphological characteristics, and adaptations, including vertebrates, often coexist by partitioning the available resources (food, space, and time). So, studies of the dynamics of these cases of coexistence are scientifically interesting. Here, we study a coexistence case of two species of freshwater turtles inhabiting the forest waterbodies of West Africa, focusing on the dietary habits of the two species. We found that both turtle species are omnivorous generalists, eating both vegetal and animal matter abundantly. However, there were clear interspecific differences, with the larger of the two species (P. cupulatta) eating more vertebrates (mainly fish but occasionally other vertebrates), whereas P. castaneus consumed more invertebrates. These patterns appeared consistently within the species and across sites, highlighting that the same patterns were likely in other conspecific populations from the Upper Guinean forest streams (Côte d’Ivoire and Liberia). Our study also showed that interspecific competition for food does not occur between these two species; instead, previous studies uncovered that a clear partitioning of the habitat niche occurs. We conclude that the food resource is likely unlimited in the study areas, as it is not the case in more arid environments (since food shortages may occur during the dry season). We anticipate that, within the Pelomedusidae communities throughout Africa, intense competition for food probably occurs in the Sahel and Sudanian vegetation zones, particularly during the dry months, but is unlikely within the Guinea and wet savannah region and even less likely in the Guineo-Congolian rainforest region.

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