Exploring habitat use by cheetahs using ecological niche factor analysis


  • Editor: Virginia Hayssen

Nathalie Pettorelli, The Zoological Society of London, Institute of Zoology, Regent's Park, London NW1 4RY, UK. Tel: +44 020 7449 6334; Fax: +44 020 7586 2870
Email: Nathalie.Pettorelli@ioz.ac.uk


Understanding the basis of habitat choice having important implications for explaining the distribution of organisms, as well as helping to differentiate between habitats of different quality for effective management. In this study, the effects of sex, age and reproductive status on habitat use patterns of cheetahs Acinonyx jubatus in the Serengeti plains were explored using Ecological Niche Factor Analysis (ENFA). Our results showed that gender and territoriality did not affect patterns of habitat use. However, females tended to be more specialized when they were young than when they were older, displaying a more restricted ecological niche. Likewise, older females without cubs were more specialized than the same adult females with young cubs. This result did not hold for younger females. Altogether, the ENFA approach allowed us to (1) use the large amount of incidental sighting data collected over 12 years on cheetah spatial distribution; (2) identify the importance of reproductive status and age on the relationship between animals and their habitat; (3) further demonstrate that ENFA is applicable in a wide range of situations, including for exploring individual variation in niche definition.