Temporal partitioning and spatiotemporal avoidance among large carnivores in a human-impacted African landscape
Searle CE., Smit JB., Cusack JJ., Strampelli P., Grau A., Mkuburo L., Macdonald DW., Loveridge AJ., Dickman AJ.
Africa is home to some of the world’s most functionally diverse guilds of large carnivores. However, they are increasingly under threat from anthropogenic pressures that may exacerbate already intense intra-guild competition. Understanding the coexistence mechanisms employed by these species in human-impacted landscapes could help shed light on some of the more subtle ways in which humans may impact wildlife populations, and inform multi-species conservation planning. We used camera trap data from Tanzania’s Ruaha-Rungwa landscape to explore temporal and spatiotemporal associations between members of an intact East African large carnivore guild, and determine how these varied across gradients of anthropogenic impact and protection. All large carnivores except African wild dog (Lycaon pictus) exhibited predominantly nocturnal road-travel behaviour. Leopard (Panthera pardus) appeared to employ minor temporal avoidance of lion (Panthera leo) in all sites except those where human impacts were highest, suggesting that leopard may have been freed up from avoidance of lion in areas where the dominant competitor was less abundant, or that the need for leopard to avoid humans outweighed the need to avoid sympatric competitors. Lion appeared to modify their activity patterns to avoid humans in the most impacted areas. We also found evidence of avoidance and attraction among large carnivores: lion and spotted hyaena (Crocuta crocuta) followed leopard; leopard avoided lion; spotted hyaena followed lion; and lion avoided spotted hyaena. Our findings suggest that large carnivores in Ruaha-Rungwa employ fine-scale partitioning mechanisms to facilitate coexistence with both sympatric species and humans, and that growing human pressures may interfere with these behaviours.