The response of spotted hyaenas to long-term changes in prey populations: functional response and interspecific kleptoparasitism
Oliver Höner, Institute of Zoo & Wildlife Research, Alfred-Kowalke-Str. 17, D-10315 Berlin, Germany, E-mail: email@example.com, Fax: + + 49-30-5168-735, telephone: + + 49-30-5168-709 or 5168–406
- 1Over the last three decades the main prey species (wildebeest Connochaetes taurinus, zebra Equus burchelli, Thomson’s gazelle Gazella thomsoni, and Grant’s gazelle Gazella granti) of spotted hyaenas Crocuta crocuta in the Ngorongoro Crater, Tanzania, substantially declined in numbers, whereas buffalo Syncerus caffer numbers increased strongly. This provided a ‘natural experiment’ to investigate how a generalist predator such as the spotted hyaena responds to long-term changes in prey populations. Here we compare data on the feeding ecology of Crater hyaenas from the late 1990s (period II) with equivalent data from the late 1960s (period I).
- 2Hyaenas showed strong hunting preferences for wildebeest calves and gazelle fawns during both periods I and II. Adult buffaloes, prey difficult to hunt for hyaenas, were rarely hunted in either period despite a large increase in buffalo numbers from period I to II.
- 3Hyaenas exhibited a functional response to the changes in prey populations by killing more buffalo calves and adult wildebeest during period II, relatively easy prey categories for hyaenas to hunt.
- 4The proportion of carcasses scavenged and acquired by kleptoparasitizing other predators increased from period I to II. This was facilitated by an increase in the relative number of lion kills available to hyaenas during the same period.
- 5Hyaenas defended a similar proportion of their kills against kleptoparasitic attempts by lions during both periods. Since the ratio of kills hyaenas kleptoparasitized from lions in relation to kills lost to lions increased from period I to period II, hyaenas obtained more food resources from lions during period II than I.
- 6The success of hyaenas kleptoparasitizing lions was influenced by the presence of male lions and the ability of hyaenas to recruit sufficient clan members to appropriate carcasses from lions.
- 7This study is the first to demonstrate both a functional response of a predator to changes in the size of prey populations and an associated change in foraging behaviour of the predator.