Resource competition drives an invasion-replacement event among shrew species on an island

Samuel S. Browett, Rebecca Synnott, Denise B. O'Meara, Rachael E. Antwis, Stephen S. Browett, Kevin J. Bown, Owen S. Wangensteen, Deborah A. Dawson, Jeremy B. Searle, Jon M. Yearsley, Allan D. McDevitt

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Citations (Scopus)


Invasive mammals are responsible for the majority of native species extinctions on islands. While most of these extinction events will be due to novel interactions between species (e.g. exotic predators and naive prey), it is more unusual to find incidences where a newly invasive species causes the decline/extinction of a native species on an island when they normally coexist elsewhere in their overlapping mainland ranges. We investigated if resource competition between two insectivorous small mammals was playing a significant role in the rapid replacement of the native pygmy shrew Sorex minutus in the presence of the recently invading greater white-toothed shrew Crocidura russula on the island of Ireland. We used DNA metabarcoding of gut contents from >300 individuals of both species to determine each species' diet and measured the body size (weight and length) during different stages of the invasion in Ireland (before, during and after the species come into contact with one another) and on a French island where both species have long coexisted (acting as a natural ‘control’ site). Dietary composition, niche width and overlap and body size were compared in these different stages. The body size of the invasive C. russula and composition of its diet changes between when it first invades an area and after it becomes established. During the initial stages of the invasion, individual shrews are larger and consume larger sized invertebrate prey species. During later stages of the invasion, C. russula switches to consuming smaller prey taxa that are more essential for the native species. As a result, the level of interspecific dietary overlap increases from between 11% and 14% when they first come into contact with each other to between 39% and 46% after the invasion. Here we show that an invasive species can quickly alter its dietary niche in a new environment, ultimately causing the replacement of a native species. In addition, the invasive shrew could also be potentially exhausting local resources of larger invertebrate species. These subsequent changes in terrestrial invertebrate communities could have severe impacts further downstream on ecosystem functioning and services.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)698-709
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Animal Ecology
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2023


  • diet
  • DNA metabarcoding
  • invasive species
  • invertebrates
  • Ireland
  • mammal
  • niche overlap


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