Large predators and their prey in a southern African savanna: predator body size determines maximum prey size.

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Journal of Animal Ecology



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  1. A long-term (13-year) data set, based on > 4000 kills, was used to test whether a sympatric group of large predators adheres to the theoretical predictions that (1) mean prey body size and (2) prey diversity increase as functions of predator body size.

  2. All kills observed by safari guides are documented routinely in Mala Mala Private Game Reserve, South Africa. We analysed these records for lion (Panthera leo, Linnaeus), leopard (Panthera pardus, Linnaeus), cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus, Schreber) and African wild dog (Lycaon pictus, Temminck). Males and females of the sexually dimorphic felid species were treated as functionally distinct predator types. Prey types were classified by species, sex and age class.
  3. Prey profiles were compared among predator types in terms of richness and evenness to consider how both the range of prey types used and the dominance of particular prey types within each range may be influenced by predator size. No significant size-dependent relationships were found, so factors separate from or additional to body size must explain variation in prey diversity across sympatric predators.
  4. A statistically strong relationship was found between mean prey mass and predator mass (r2 = 0·86, P= 0·002), although pairwise comparisons showed that most predators killed similar prey despite wide differences in predator size. Also, minimum prey mass was independent of predator mass while maximum prey mass was strongly dependent on predator mass (r2 = 0·71, P= 0·017). The ecological significance is that larger predators do not specialize on larger prey, but exploit a wider range of prey sizes.