Can an herbivore affect where a top predator kills its prey by modifying woody vegetation structure?
Ferry N., Mbizah MM., Loveridge AJ., Macdonald DW., Dray S., Fritz H., Valeix M.
© 2020, Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature. In large mammal communities, little is known about modification of interspecific interactions through habitat structure changes. We assessed the effects of African elephants (Loxodonta africana) on features of woody habitat structure that can affect predator–prey interactions. We then explored how this can influence where African lions (Panthera leo) kill their prey. Indeed, lions are stalk-and-ambush predators and habitat structure and concealment opportunities are assumed to influence their hunting success. During 2 years, in Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe, kill sites (n = 167) of GPS-collared lions were characterized (visibility distance for large mammals, distance to a potential ambush site and presence of elephant impacts). We compared characteristics of lion kill sites with characteristics of random sites (1) at a large scale (i.e. in areas intensively used by lions, n = 418) and (2) at the microhabitat scale (i.e. in the direct surrounding available habitat, < 150 m, n = 167). Elephant-impacted sites had a slightly higher visibility and a longer distance to a potential ambush site than non-impacted sites, but these relationships were characterized by a high variability. At large scale, kill sites were characterized by higher levels of elephant impacts compared to random sites. At microhabitat scale, compared to the direct nearby available habitat, kill sites were characterized by a reduced distance to a potential ambush site. We suggest a conceptual framework whereby the relative importance of habitat features and prey abundance could change upon the scale considered.