Spatial and temporal avoidance of risk within a large carnivore guild

Authors

Egil Droge, Scott Creel, Matthew S. Becker, Jassiel M'soka

Publication

Ecology & Evolution

Abstract

Within a large carnivore guild, subordinate competitors (African wild dog, Lycaon pictus, and cheetah, Acinonyx jubatus) might reduce the limiting effects of dominant competitors (lion, Panthera leo, and spotted hyena, Crocuta crocuta) by avoiding them in space, in time, or through patterns of prey selection. Understanding how these competitors cope with one other can inform strategies for their conservation. We tested how mechanisms of niche partitioning promote coexistence by quantifying patterns of prey selection and the use of space and time by all members of the large carnivore guild within Liuwa Plain National Park in western Zambia. Lions and hyenas specialized on wildebeest, whereas wild dogs and cheetahs selected broader diets including smaller and less abundant prey. Spatially, cheetahs showed no detectable avoidance of areas heavily used by dominant competitors, but wild dogs avoided areas heavily used by lions. Temporally, the proportion of kills by lions and hyenas did not detectably differ across four time periods (day, crepuscular, early night, and late night), but wild dogs and especially cheetahs concentrated on time windows that avoided nighttime hunting by lions and hyenas. Our results provide new insight into the conditions under which partitioning may not allow for coexistence for one subordinate species, the African wild dog, while it does for cheetah. Because of differences in responses to dominant competitors, African wild dogs may be more prone to competitive exclusion (local extirpation), particularly in open, uniform ecosystems with simple (often wildebeest dominated) prey communities, where spatial avoidance is difficult.

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