Species commonly exist in sympatry, yet ecological studies are often based on a single species approach while ignoring the impact of sympatric competitors. Over 13 mo we used 24 remote video-camera traps to monitor habitat use of sympatric chimpanzee, gorilla and elephant in four different habitat types in Loango National Park, Gabon. Habitat use by each species was predicted to vary according to seasonal changes in food availability and precipitation. Increased interspecific competition between the three species was expected at times of reduced resource availability, leading to exclusion of the inferior competitor. Supporting the predictions, species abundance per habitat showed seasonal variation: all three species responded positively to increased fruit availability in all habitats, but the response was only significant for gorilla in mature forest and elephant in coastal forest. Responses to rainfall varied, with the chimpanzee responding negatively to rainfall in swamp forest, the gorilla responding positively to rainfall in coastal and secondary forest, and the elephant responding positively to rainfall in mature forest. Elephant presence resulted in competitive exclusion of the apes under certain conditions: the chimpanzee was excluded by the elephant where fruit availability was low, whereas the gorilla was excluded by the elephant in areas of low herb density despite high fruit availability. Our results emphasize the value of applying a multi-species, longer-term approach to studying variation in habitat use among sympatric species and highlight the impact competitors can exert on one another's distribution.
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