Ecologically equivalent species serve similar functions in different communities, and an ecological surrogate species can be used as a substitute for an equivalent species in a community. Siberian polecats (Mustela eversmanii) and black-footed ferrets (M. nigripes) have long been considered ecological equivalents. Polecats also have been used as investigational surrogates for black-footed ferrets, yet the similarities and differences between the 2 species are poorly understood. We contrasted activity patterns of radiotagged polecats and ferrets released onto ferret habitat. Ferrets tended to be nocturnal and most active after midnight. Polecats were not highly selective for any period of the day or night. Ferrets and polecats moved most during brightly moonlit nights. The diel activity pattern of ferrets was consistent with avoidance of coyotes (Canis latrans) and diurnal birds of prey. Similarly, polecat activity was consistent with avoidance of red foxes (Vulpes vulpes) in their natural range. Intraguild predation (including interference competition) is inferred as a selective force influencing behaviors of these mustelines. Examination of our data suggests that black-footed ferrets and Siberian polecats might be ecological equivalents but are not perfect surrogates. Nonetheless, polecats as surrogates for black-footed ferrets have provided critical insight needed, especially related to predation, to improve the success of ferret reintroductions.
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Vol. 92 • No. 4