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Thaker M.,University of KwaZulu - Natal | Vanak A.T.,University of KwaZulu - Natal | Owen C.R.,University of KwaZulu - Natal | Owen C.R.,Karongwe Ecological Research Institute | And 2 more authors.
PLoS ONE | Year: 2010

Background: Group dynamics of gregarious ungulates in the grasslands of the African savanna have been well studied, but the trade-offs that affect grouping of these ungulates in woodland habitats or dense vegetation are less well understood. We examined the landscape-level distribution of groups of blue wildebeest, Connochaetes taurinus, and Burchell's zebra, Equus burchelli, in a predominantly woodland area (Karongwe Game Reserve, South Africa; KGR) to test the hypothesis that group dynamics are a function of minimizing predation risk from their primary predator, lion, Panthera leo. Methodology/Principal Findings: Using generalized linear models, we examined the relative importance of habitat type (differing in vegetation density), probability of encountering lion (based on utilization distribution of all individual lions in the reserve), and season in predicting group size and composition. We found that only in open scrub habitat, group size for both ungulate species increased with the probability of encountering lion. Group composition differed between the two species and was driven by habitat selection as well as predation risk. For both species, composition of groups was, however, dominated by males in open scrub habitats, irrespective of the probability of encountering lion. Conclusions/Significance: Distribution patterns of wildebeest and zebra groups at the landscape level directly support the theoretical and empirical evidence from a range of taxa predicting that grouping is favored in open habitats and when predation risk is high. Group composition reflected species-specific social, physiological and foraging constraints, as well as the importance of predation risk. Avoidance of high resource open scrub habitat by females can lead to loss of foraging opportunities, which can be particularly costly in areas such as KGR, where this resource is limited. Thus, landscape-level grouping dynamics are species specific and particular to the composition of the group, arising from a tradeoff between maximizing resource selection and minimizing predation risk. © 2010 Thaker et al. Source

Vanak A.T.,University of KwaZulu - Natal | Vanak A.T.,Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and the Environment | Fortin D.,Laval University | Thaker M.,University of KwaZulu - Natal | And 6 more authors.
Ecology | Year: 2013

Most ecosystems have multiple predator species that not only compete for shared prey, but also pose direct threats to each other. These intraguild interactions are key drivers of carnivore community structure, with ecosystem-wide cascading effects. Yet, behavioral mechanisms for coexistence of multiple carnivore species remain poorly understood. The challenges of studying large, free-ranging carnivores have resulted in mainly coarse-scale examination of behavioral strategies without information about all interacting competitors. We overcame some of these challenges by examining the concurrent fine-scale movement decisions of almost all individuals of four large mammalian carnivore species in a closed terrestrial system. We found that the intensity of intraguild interactions did not follow a simple hierarchical allometric pattern, because spatial and behavioral tactics of subordinate species changed with threat and resource levels across seasons. Lions (Panthera leo) were generally unrestricted and anchored themselves in areas rich in not only their principal prey, but also, during periods of resource limitation (dry season), rich in the main prey for other carnivores. Because of this, the greatest cost (potential intraguild predation) for subordinate carnivores was spatially coupled with the highest potential benefit of resource acquisition (prey-rich areas), especially in the dry season. Leopard (P. pardus) and cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus) overlapped with the home range of lions but minimized their risk using fine-scaled avoidance behaviors and restricted resource acquisition tactics. The cost of intraguild competition was most apparent for cheetahs, especially during the wet season, as areas with energetically rewarding large prey (wildebeest) were avoided when they overlapped highly with the activity areas of lions. Contrary to expectation, the smallest species (African wild dog, Lycaon pictus) did not avoid only lions, but also used multiple tactics to minimize encountering all other competitors. Intraguild competition thus forced wild dogs into areas with the lowest resource availability year round. Coexistence of multiple carnivore species has typically been explained by dietary niche separation, but our multi-scaled movement results suggest that differences in resource acquisition may instead be a consequence of avoiding intraguild competition. We generate a more realistic representation of hierarchical behavioral interactions that may ultimately drive spatially explicit trophic structures of multi-predator communities. © 2013 by the Ecological Society of America. Source

Thaker M.,University of KwaZulu - Natal | Vanak A.T.,University of KwaZulu - Natal | Owen C.R.,University of KwaZulu - Natal | Owen C.R.,Karongwe Ecological Research Institute | And 3 more authors.
Ecology | Year: 2011

Studies that focus on single predator-prey interactions can be inadequate for understanding antipredator responses in multi-predator systems. Yet there is still a general lack of information about the strategies of prey to minimize predation risk from multiple predators at the landscape level. Here we examined the distribution of seven African ungulate species in the fenced Karongwe Game Reserve (KGR), South Africa, as a function of predation risk from all large carnivore species (lion, leopard, cheetah, African wild dog, and spotted hyena). Using observed kill data, we generated ungulate-specific predictions of relative predation risk and of riskiness of habitats. To determine how ungulates minimize predation risk at the landscape level, we explicitly tested five hypotheses consisting of strategies that reduce the probability of encountering predators, and the probability of being killed. All ungulate species avoided risky habitats, and most selected safer habitats, thus reducing their probability of being killed. To reduce the probability of encountering predators, most of the smaller prey species (impala, warthog, waterbuck, kudu) avoided the space use of all predators, while the larger species (wildebeest, zebra, giraffe) only avoided areas where lion and leopard space use were high. The strength of avoidance for the space use of predators generally did not correspond to the relative predation threat from those predators. Instead, ungulates used a simpler behavioral rule of avoiding the activity areas of sit-and-pursue predators (lion and leopard), but not those of cursorial predators (cheetah and African wild dog). In general, selection and avoidance of habitats was stronger than avoidance of the predator activity areas. We expect similar decision rules to drive the distribution pattern of ungulates in other African savannas and in other multi-predator systems, especially where predators differ in their hunting modes. © 2011 by the Ecological Society of America. Source

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