Coexistence of two newt species in a transition zone of range overlap
Theory suggests that spatial segregation of similar, co-occurring species may be driven by alternative innate life history and dispersal strategies, and that it operates through catastrophic events. An inventory of the evolutionary closely related small-bodied newts Lissotriton helveticus and L. vulgaris in the northwest of France demonstrated the species’ spatial partitioning, with L. vulgaris dominating in two pond-rich and historically disturbed coastal areas and L. helveticus prevailing inland where ponds are sparser. Population numbers were followed over several decades (1975‒2021) in a pond within the narrow (ca. 2000 m wide) species transition zone. Early in the temporal survey (1986) a massive die-off was observed of two-third of the L. helveticus breeding population from a late frost event. Yet, the contribution of L. helveticus to the newt assemblage was more or less stable around 60%, even though the total population size fluctuated by an order of magnitude. Lissotriton vulgaris and a third species, Ichthyosaura alpestris, made up ca. 30% and 10% of the total till 1993, after which date their relative contributions reversed. These data suggest that a state shift may have occurred among the latter two species and that the assumed two-species dynamics of Lissotriton underlying the study has been an oversimplification. The local decline of L. vulgaris is paralleled by the loss of well-vegetated ponds from the wider agricultural terrain that affects this species more than L. helveticus and I. alpestris.