Influence of prey dispersion on territory and group size of African lions: a test of the resource dispersion hypothesis.
Valeix M., Loveridge AJ., MacDonald DW.
Empirical tests of the resource dispersion hypothesis (RDH), a theory to explain group living based on resource heterogeneity, have been complicated by the fact that resource patch dispersion and richness have proved difficult to define and measure in natural systems. Here, we studied the ecology of African lions Panthera leo in Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe, where waterholes are prey hotspots, and where dispersion of water sources and abundance of prey at these water sources are quantifiable. We combined a 10-year data set from GPS-collared lions for which information of group composition was available concurrently with data for herbivore abundance at waterholes. The distance between two neighboring waterholes was a strong determinant of lion home range size, which provides strong support for the RDH prediction that territory size increases as resource patches are more dispersed in the landscape. The mean number of herbivore herds using a waterhole, a good proxy of patch richness, determined the maximum lion group biomass an area can support. This finding suggests that patch richness sets a maximum ceiling on lion group size. This study demonstrates that landscape ecology is a major driver of ranging behavior and suggests that aspects of resource dispersion limit group sizes.