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Predator--Prey Relationships: The Impact of Lion Predation on Wildebeest and Zebra Populations

M.G.L. Mills and T.M. Shenk
Journal of Animal Ecology
Vol. 61, No. 3 (Oct., 1992), pp. 693-702
DOI: 10.2307/5624
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/5624
Page Count: 10
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Predator--Prey Relationships: The Impact of Lion Predation on Wildebeest and Zebra Populations
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Abstract

1. The role of lion Panthera leo predation in the dynamics of blue wildebeest Connochaetes taurinus and zebra Equus burchelli populations was investigated through simulation models. The data used in the models were from intensive observations over 4 years in the south-east of the Kruger National Park. 2. Population estimates of wildebeest and zebra were made from aerial surveys, sex and age ratios from ground counts. Lion numbers were determined from observations of marked and radio-collared animals. Predation was studied by following lions for continuous periods of up to 336 h. 3. Two models were constructed. Model 1 ascertained the number of killing lions (adult females) that could be supported by each prey population while remaining stable. A single model was constructed for the sedentary wildebeest population. A summer and winter model was constructed for the semi-migratory zebra population. The sensitivity of the parameters in the model was tested by changing their value by 10%. In model 2, the kill age structure for each species was changed to determine the number of killing lions the altered prey selection parameters could support. 4. There was no difference in the vulnerability of either species to predation. Zebra foals (<1 year) were killed more frequently than expected. No selection for sex or by season could be found for either species. 5. Model 1 predicted that the wildebeest population stabilizes with 7.7 killing lions, close to the number in the study area. The winter zebra population stabilizes with 6.8 killing lions and the summer zebra population with 19.4. Manipulation of kill rate followed by adult fecundity rate had the greatest effect on population size of both species. In model 2, wildebeest predation was made selective towards calves and zebra predation was made non-selective for sex and age. With these parameters the wildebeest population stabilizes with 10.7 killing lions and the zebra population with 5.4 in winter and 15.1 in summer. 6. The models suggest that lion predation affected wildebeest more severely than zebra during the study. This was through the way in which lions selected their prey, and because of the sedentary behaviour of the wildebeest, as opposed to the semi-migratory behaviour of the zebra.

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