Spatial co-occurrence patterns of sympatric large carnivores in a multi-use African system.
Strampelli P., Henschel P., Searle CE., Macdonald DW., Dickman AJ.
Interspecific interactions can be a key driver of habitat use, and must be accounted for in conservation planning. However, spatial partitioning between African carnivores, and how this varies with scale, remains poorly understood. Furthermore, most studies have taken place within small or highly protected areas, rather than in the heterogeneous, mixed-use landscapes characteristic of much of modern Africa. Here, we provide one of the first empirical investigations into population-level competitive interactions among an African large carnivore guild. We collected detection/non-detection data for an eastern African large carnivore guild in Tanzania's Ruaha-Rungwa conservation landscape, over an area of ~45,000 km2. We then applied conditional co-occupancy models to investigate co-occurrence between lion, leopard, and African wild dog, at two biologically meaningful scales. Co-occurrence patterns of cheetah and spotted hyaena could not be modelled. After accounting for habitat and detection effects, we found some evidence of wild dog avoidance of lion at the home range scale, and strong evidence of fine-scale avoidance. We found no evidence of interspecific exclusion of leopard by lion; rather, positive associations were observed at both scales, suggesting shared habitat preferences. We found little evidence of leopard habitat use being affected by wild dog. Our findings also reveal some interspecific effects on species detection, at both scales. In most cases, habitat use was driven more strongly by other habitat effects, such as biotic resources or anthropogenic pressures, than by interspecific pressures, even where evidence of the latter was present. Overall, our results help shed light on interspecific effects within an assemblage that has rarely been examined at this scale. We also demonstrate the effectiveness of sign-based co-occurrence modelling to describe interspecific spatial patterns of sympatric large carnivores across large scales. We conclude by discussing the implications of our findings for large carnivore conservation in modern African systems.