Modeling wildebeest population dynamics: implications of predation and offtake in a closed system.

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Journal of Applied Ecology



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  1. Predation upon ungulates is generally considered to have a stronger regulatory effect on sedentary than migratory populations, with migratory populations maintaining higher densities. The blue wildebeest Connochaetus taurinus is a migratory species that has suffered a general decline in numbers and distribution across its species range. Wildebeest suffer from a fragmented distribution together with isolation of populations in closed reserves, preventing migratory movements and potentially allowing predators to benefit from a ‘captive’ prey resource.

  2. In Pilanesberg National Park, South Africa, the declining blue wildebeest population (from 1074 in 1995 to 594 in 2001) is sedentary because the park (50 000 ha) is completely enclosed by fencing. This population was used to model the potential effects of predation and harvesting. The Pilanesberg population was then compared with other wildebeest populations in southern Africa.
  3. The model outputs demonstrated that increased levels of predation by lions Panthera leo on a ‘captive’ population of prey such as wildebeest, in combination with regular harvesting by park managers, can drive the population towards extinction. At lower levels of predation some other factor needs to act in combination with predation to drive the population into a decline.
  4. During our study the lion biomass density in Pilanesberg was almost three times greater than that predicted by regression models of the stable relationship between lion and prey biomass densities across African savannas. Furthermore, the ratio of lion numbers to prey numbers was substantially higher than in most other African reserves.
  5. Synthesis and applications. In African savannas, artificial closed systems provide advantages to large predators. If wildlife-cropping schemes are implemented in such systems without careful monitoring and regulation of large predators, then ungulate populations can decline more rapidly than managers expect.

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