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Competition is considered to be a major evolutionary driving force within assemblages of related and morphologically similar species, but it is notoriously difficult to test and quantify especially amongst species that cannot be easily manipulated in a laboratory or in the field. By exploiting a re-introduction of Eurasian otters (Lutra lutra) in the Upper Thames catchment (UK) in 1999 we performed an experiment to test whether there was evidence of competition between otters and American mink (Mustela vison). Mink and otters are semi-aquatic mustelids belonging to the same guild. Otters are expected to be the dominant competitor because they are larger and better adapted at exploiting aquatic resources. Our hypothesis was that mink declines when the density of otters increases. We measured the effect of competition at the population level, by observing whether mink distribution and densities changed in an area of 1353 km2 in association with the arrival of its putative competitor. We estimated distribution and densities by means of sign surveys and trapping. The results showed that otters were associated with a significant and rapid reduction in the densities of mink, while mink occupancy remained approximately the same in an area of 2464 km2 that was used as a control. We observed that the spatial distribution of the mink population throughout its decline was influenced by the yearly cycle of mink activities, with areas being temporarily re-colonized during the dispersal season. Mink is an invasive species in the UK threatening the survival of some native species. Our findings suggest that the reestablishment of otter populations is likely to lead to a decline of mink that may, in turn, be beneficial to native species threatened by this invasive.
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