Functional traits driving species role in the structure of terrestrial vertebrate scavenger networks

Esther Sebastián-González, Zebensui Morales-Reyes, Francisco Botella, Lara Naves-Alegre, Juan M. Pérez-García, Patricia Mateo-Tomás, Pedro P. Olea, Marcos Moleón, Jomar Magalhães Barbosa, Fernando Hiraldo, Eneko Arrondo, José A. Donázar, Ainara Cortés-Avizanda, Nuria Selva, Sergio A. Lambertucci, Aishwarya Bhattacharjee, Alexis L. Brewer, Erin F. Abernethy, Kelsey L. Turner, James C. BeasleyTravis L. DeVault, Hannah C. Gerke, Olin E. Rhodes, Andrés Ordiz, Camilla Wikenros, Barbara Zimmermann, Petter Wabakken, Christopher C. Wilmers, Justine A. Smith, Corinne J. Kendall, Darcy Ogada, Ethan Frehner, Maximilian L. Allen, Heiko U. Wittmer, James R.A. Butler, Johan T. du Toit, Antoni Margalida, Pilar Oliva-Vidal, David Wilson, Klemen Jerina, Miha Krofel, Rich Kostecke, Richard Inger, Esra Per, Yunus Ayhan, Mehmet Sancı, Ünsal Yılmazer, Akino Inagaki, Shinsuke Koike, Arockianathan Samson, Paula L. Perrig, Emma E. Spencer, Thomas M. Newsome, Marco Heurich, José D. Anadón, Evan R. Buechley, Cayetano Gutiérrez-Cánovas, L. Mark Elbroch, José A. Sánchez-Zapata

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Species assemblages often have a non-random nested organization, which in vertebrate scavenger (carrion-consuming) assemblages is thought to be driven by facilitation in competitive environments. However, not all scavenger species play the same role in maintaining assemblage structure, as some species are obligate scavengers (i.e., vultures) and others are facultative, scavenging opportunistically. We used a database with 177 vertebrate scavenger species from 53 assemblages in 22 countries across five continents to identify which functional traits of scavenger species are key to maintaining the scavenging network structure. We used network analyses to relate ten traits hypothesized to affect assemblage structure with the “role” of each species in the scavenging assemblage in which it appeared. We characterized the role of a species in terms of both the proportion of monitored carcasses on which that species scavenged, or scavenging breadth (i.e., the species “normalized degree”), and the role of that species in the nested structure of the assemblage (i.e., the species “paired nested degree”), therefore identifying possible facilitative interactions among species. We found that species with high olfactory acuity, social foragers, and obligate scavengers had the widest scavenging breadth. We also found that social foragers had a large paired nested degree in scavenger assemblages, probably because their presence is easier to detect by other species to signal carcass occurrence. Our study highlights differences in the functional roles of scavenger species and can be used to identify key species for targeted conservation to maintain the ecological function of scavenger assemblages.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere03519
Issue number12
StatePublished - Dec 2021


  • assemblage nestedness
  • carrion
  • facilitative interaction
  • normalized degree
  • obligate scavenger
  • olfactory acuity
  • social foraging
  • vulture

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics


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