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Keywords:

  • Bhutan;
  • diet;
  • niche;
  • overlap;
  • tigers;
  • leopards;
  • dholes

Abstract

We describe the food habits, niche overlap and prey preferences in a predator guild comprised of tigers Panthera tigris, leopards Panthera pardus and dholes Cuon alpinus in a mountainous region of central Bhutan. Scat analyses revealed that these predators consumed 11 different prey species including livestock and rodents, of which leopards consumed 11. The combined relative occurrence of the three species, sambar Cervus unicolor, muntjac Munticus muntjac and wild pig Sus scrofa, constituted 42.7, 33.7 and 71.1% of the tiger, leopard and dhole diets, respectively, while livestock comprised 44.5, 73.4 and 15.9% of the prey consumed, respectively. Regression equations from earlier feeding trials were used to estimate the relative biomass and the numbers of prey consumed. Results showed that sambar featured more frequently than did muntjac and wild pig in the diets of tiger, leopard and dhole and contributed more relative biomass than did muntjac and wild pig. Sambar, muntjac and wild pig together provided 36.9, 28 and 63.1% of the biomass consumed by tigers, leopards and dholes respectively. All else being equal, there was evidence that all three predators ate livestock less than might have been expected on the basis of the abundance and high biomass of this prey category in the area. There was a high dietary niche overlap between the predators (Pianka's overlap index of 0.58–0.92), with a greater overlap between the two felid species than between the felids and the canid. This study provides evidence of a substantial diet overlap among the three sympatric carnivores, and thus highlights the potential for high intra-guild competition among them, especially given the relatively low density of prey.