Prey availability and intraguild competition regulate the spatiotemporal dynamics of a modified large carnivore guild

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Abstract

Effective conservation management requires an understanding of the spatiotemporal dynamics driving large carnivore density and resource partitioning. In African ecosystems, reduced prey populations and the loss of competing guild members, most notably lion (Panthera leo), are expected to increase the levels of competition between remaining carnivores. Consequently, intraguild relationships can be altered, potentially increasing the risk of further population decline. Kasungu National Park (KNP), Malawi, is an example of a conservation area that has experienced large-scale reductions in both carnivore and prey populations, leaving a resident large carnivore guild consisting of only leopard (Panthera pardus) and spotted hyena (Crocuta crocuta). Here, we quantify the spatiotemporal dynamics of these two species and their degree of association, using a combination of co-detection modeling, time-to-event analyses, and temporal activity patterns from camera trap data. The detection of leopard and spotted hyena was significantly associated with the detection of preferred prey and competing carnivores, increasing the likelihood of species interaction. Temporal analyses revealed sex-specific differences in temporal activity, with female leopard activity patterns significantly different to those of spotted hyena and male conspecifics. Heightened risk of interaction with interspecific competitors and male conspecifics may have resulted in female leopards adopting temporal avoidance strategies to facilitate coexistence. Female leopard behavioral adaptations increased overall activity levels and diurnal activity rates, with potential consequences for overall fitness and exposure to sources of mortality. As both species are currently found at low densities in KNP, increased risk of competitive interactions, which infer a reduction in fitness, could have significant implications for large carnivore demographics. The protection of remaining prey populations is necessary to mitigate interspecific competition and avoid further alterations to the large carnivore guild.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)7890-7904
JournalEcology and Evolution
Volume11
Issue number12
Early online date16 May 2021
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 21 Jun 2021

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