Landscape-level movement patterns by lions in western Serengeti: comparing the influence of inter-specific competitors, habitat attributes and prey availability Kittle, Andrew M; Bukombe, John K; Sinclair, Anthony R E; Mduma, Simon A R; Fryxell, John M
Background: Where apex predators move on the landscape influences ecosystem structure and function and is therefore key to effective landscape-level management and species-specific conservation. However the factors underlying predator distribution patterns within functional ecosystems are poorly understood. Predator movement should be sensitive to the spatial patterns of inter-specific competitors, spatial variation in prey density, and landscape attributes that increase individual prey vulnerability. We investigated the relative role of these fundamental factors on seasonal resource utilization by a globally endangered apex carnivore, the African lion (Panthera leo) in Tanzania’s Serengeti National Park. Lion space use was represented by novel landscape-level, modified utilization distributions (termed “localized density distributions”) created from telemetry relocations of individual lions from multiple neighbouring prides. Spatial patterns of inter-specific competitors were similarly determined from telemetry re-locations of spotted hyenas (Crocuta crocuta), this system’s primary competitor for lions; prey distribution was derived from 18 months of detailed census data; and remote sensing data was used to represent relevant habitat attributes. Results: Lion space use was consistently influenced by landscape attributes that increase individual prey vulnerability to predation. Wet season activity, when available prey were scarce, was concentrated near embankments, which provide ambush opportunities, and dry season activity, when available prey were abundant, near remaining water sources where prey occurrence is predictable. Lion space use patterns were positively associated with areas of high prey biomass, but only in the prey abundant dry season. Finally, at the broad scale of this analysis, lion and hyena space use was positively correlated in the comparatively prey-rich dry season and unrelated in the wet season, suggesting lion movement was unconstrained by the spatial patterns of their main inter-specific competitors. Conclusions: The availability of potential prey and vulnerability of that prey to predation both motivate lion movement decisions, with their relative importance apparently mediated by overall prey abundance. With practical and theoretical implications, these results suggest that while top carnivores are consistently cognizant of how landscape features influence individual prey vulnerability, they also adopt a flexible approach to range use by adjusting spatial behaviour according to fluctuations in local prey abundance.
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