Trade-off between resource seasonality and predation risk explains reproductive chronology in impala

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Journal of Zoology



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We investigated the variation in birth synchrony displayed by impala Aepyceros melampus populations across their distribution from southern to eastern Africa. Our analysis was based on field data from Chobe National Park in Botswana and Mala Mala Private Game Reserve in South Africa (4 and 13 years of monitoring, respectively). We compared our results with those from other studies conducted across the impala species range. Impala lambing was highly synchronized in Chobe with 90% of lambs born within 2 weeks in mid-November. Variation in rainfall in the preceding wet season explained 74% of variation in the dates of the first lamb observation in Mala Mala. In Chobe, the earliest birth peak occurred after the highest rainfall and the body condition of lambs in that cohort was also best for both males and females. No association was found between the lunar cycle and the estimated onset of the conception period, despite previous studies having found an association between the lunar cycle and the rutting behaviour in males. On a regional scale, impalas in areas with a marked dry season (several months with no rain) tend to synchronize births with the onset of the rains, when grass quality is highest. Number of months with rain explained 78% of the regional variation in birth synchrony. Neither latitude nor total rainfall contributed significantly to a stepwise multiple regression model. These data support the theory that impalas synchronize births in areas with a highly seasonal food supply, and temporally space births in less seasonal (equatorial) areas to reduce predation risks.