Predator-prey relationships are integral to ecosystem stability and functioning. These relationships are, however, difficult to maintain in protected areas where large predators are increasingly being reintroduced and confined. Where predators make kills has a profound influence on their role in ecosystems, but the relative importance of environmental variables in determining kill sites, and how these might vary across ecosystems is poorly known. We investigated kill sites for lions in South Africa's thicket biome, testing the importance of vegetation structure for kill site locations compared to other environmental variables. Kill sites were located over four years using GPS telemetry and compared to non-kill sites that had been occupied by lions, as well as to random sites within lion ranges. Measurements of 3D vegetation structure obtained from Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR) were used to calculate the visible area (viewshed) around each site and, along with wind and moonlight data, used to compare kill sites between lion sexes, prey species and prey sexes. Viewshed area was the most important predictor of kill sites (sites in dense vegetation were twice as likely to be kill sites compared to open areas), followed by wind speed and, less so, moonlight. Kill sites for different prey species varied with vegetation structure, and male prey were killed when wind speeds were higher compared to female prey of the same species. Our results demonstrate that vegetation structure is an important component of predatorprey interactions, with varying effects across ecosystems. Such differences require consideration in terms of the ecological roles performed by predators, and in predator and prey conservation.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
- Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)