San Joaquin kit foxes (Vulpes macrotis mutica) are an endangered species with a narrow geographic range whose natural populations are limited by predation by coyotes (Canis latrans). In the warm, arid grassland and shrubland habitats where kit foxes occur, coyotes are more cover dependent than kit foxes, creating the possibility of habitat segregation. Effects of habitat variation on coyote and kit fox competition are unknown. We assessed exploitation and interference competition between coyotes and kit foxes in grassland and shrubland habitats to determine if such competition varies among habitats. With respect to exploitation competition, we evaluated habitat and spatial partitioning, diet, prey abundance, and survival for kit foxes and coyotes at the Lokern Natural Area in central California, USA, from January 2003 through June 2004. Kit foxes partitioned habitat, space, and diet with coyotes. Coyotes primarily used shrubland habitats whereas kit foxes selectively used burned grasslands. Kit foxes and coyotes had high dietary overlap with regards to items used, but proportional use of items differed between the 2 species. Kit foxes selected for Heermann's kangaroo rats (Dipodomys heermanni), which were closely tied to shrub habitats. With respect to interference competition, predation was the primary source of mortality for kit foxes, and survival of individual kit foxes was inversely related to proportion of shrub habitat within their home ranges. Our results suggest that a heterogeneous landscape may benefit kit foxes by providing habitat patches where predation risk may be lower.
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Vol. 71 • No. 5