We are interested in determining how large predators select their prey and whether they have evolved morphologies/behaviours to optimally forage upon specific species. We have ascertained the preferred prey of lions, leopards, cheetahs, spotted hyaenas, African wild dogs, tigers, dholes, brown bears and snow leopards. There are dozens more species to look at (like coyotes). Once we do that, we can investigate many more theoretical issues like ecological redundancy, optimal foraging theory, the role preferred prey play in determining distribution, and mesopredator suppression.
A video describing the preferred prey of lions is here and a method to estimate the carrying capacity of Africa’s large predator guild based on their prey preferences is here.
Ecosystem service roles of apex predators
Apex predators are critical to ecosystem function through the range of services they are thought to provide. Issues such as prey limitation and mesopredator suppression have been well documented, however there are a range of other critical ecosystem services that apex predators perform that have not been documented as thoroughly. These include waste disposal through carcass decomposition and prey spatial avoidance behaviour. As apex predators are in direct competition with humans, our expanding population has resulted in an increasing extinction risk for apex predators. Therefore these functions may soon be lost. The often localised nature of apex predator distribution (particularly when coupled with conservation fencing) provides an opportunity to experimentally investigate the ecosystem services provided by apex predators.
- Peter Haswell
- Carolyn Devens
- Laura Porter