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Past Graduate Student Work

Niche segregation by Cheetahs

Femke Broekhuis, PhD Student, WildCRU, Oxford, UK


Niche segregation by Cheetahs (Acinonyx jubatus) as a mechanism for co-existence with Lions (Panthera leo) and Spotted hyaenas (Crocuta crocuta).

The aim of this research is to gain a better understanding of the complexity of the ecological and behavioural relationships between sympatric, competing species within the predator guild. The focus will be on the mechanisms by which the cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus), a competitively weak species, co-exists with competitively more dominant species such as spotted hyaenas (C. crocuta) and lions (P. leo).

GPS radio-telemetry collars designed to collect fine-scale spatial and energetic data will be used to explore the extent and patterns of behaviour which allows for their co-existence by looking at dietary overlap, daily activity and habitat selection patterns on different spatio-temporal levels for cheetahs, lions and hyaenas. Once analyzed, these data will hopefully give us a better insight into the mechanism by which these competing carnivores co-exist. Since competition plays a central role in structuring species communities, it is important to take this multi-species approach if we want to develop effective conservation policies for these species.

Besides being sponsored by BPCT and its associated sponsors, this project is also sponsored by:

·         Kaplan Prize Scholarship

·         Wildlife Wilderness Trust

·         IDEA Wild

·         British Airways

Habitat use and segregation of carnivores

Gabriele Cozzi, PhD Student, University of Zurich, CH

Wild Dogs

Patterns of habitat use and segregation in the African wild dog (Lycaon pictus), the spotted hyena (Crocuta crocuta) and the lion (Panthera leo).

As a consequence of human induced habitat loss, competing species are forced into smaller areas, thereby increasing the frequency of negative interactions. Within African ecosystems, the  endangered African wild dog has been shown to suffer from competition with both spotted hyena and lion, and from direct predation by lions. Competition with and predation by these two dominant and larger members of the carnivore guild have been proposed as one of the main causes of the observed low densities at which the African wild dogs occur in parts of its former range.

With my research I aim to study; 1) how these three, competing carnivore species affect each others' behaviour and ecology and, 2) the mechanisms leading to their co-existence. I am analyzing and comparing patterns of habitat use and spatial and temporal segregation of the study area's African wild dog, spotted hyena and lion. For the first time African wild dogs, spotted hyenas and lions inhabiting the same area will be fitted with spatially and temporally scheduled precise GPS radio collars. Recent advances in battery design and in GPS radio collar technology now provide this unique opportunity to simultaneously study these three sympatric carnivores on the necessary fine spatial and temporal scale. GPS locations for these three species are also overlaid onto detailed vegetation maps and prey species distribution maps to help define habitat specific characteristics of these relationships.

A complete understanding of the habitat requirements for each species and how species influence each other's habitat use is an essential component of endangered species management. The results of my study will provide valuable information on habitat selection that can be used to improve conservation management practices, especially for small, protected areas where species need be actively managed. With fewer than an estimated 6, 000 individuals left in the wild, African wild dogs may be on the verge of extinction. Understanding the factors that influence population dynamics is crucial to the development of conservation strategies that will ensure the survival of this species. The same strategies may be applied to the conservation of other vulnerable carnivores such as the cheetah (Acinoyx jubatus).

Besides being sponsored by BPCT and its associated sponsors, this project is also sponsored by:

·         Basel Zoo

·         Forschungskredit der Universit&aumlt Z&uumlrich

·         Institute of Environmental Sciences, University of Z&uumlrich

·         Vontobel StiftungTerritoriality and Scent Marking Behavior of African Wild Dogs in Northern Botswana

Megan Parker, PhD, University of Montana, U.S.

African wild dogsUnlike most large carnivores, wild dogs do not vocalize over long distances but rather rely heavily on chemical signals to communicate with their neighbors. A fundamental requirement of these highly social animals is to defend their large territories, even when they are unable to physically patrol their borders. Chemicals from a sample of collected scent marks were analyzed using gas chromatography and mass spectrometry (GC/MS) to identify compounds, and then manipulated in the field with a recipient pack to experimentally measure reactions and subsequent movements. Field work and data collection was conducted from 1999 to 2004. This PhD research was the pilot study to the current BioBoundary Project.

Predation Conflict in Rangelands with Free-ranging Livestock in Western Botswana

Matt (Swarner) Muir, PhD, University of California, Davis, U.S.

Matt started with BPCT as a volunteer research assistant in 2001. He continued with a PhD project in 2004 focusing on quantifying the cost to local farmers of conflict with carnivores in Western Botswana. This was part of BPCT's broader effort to understand and manage healthy predator populations within the context of an expanding human population. If attacks by wild dogs on livestock occur patchily and in certain situations (e.g. where wild prey is depleted), stakeholders may be able to mitigate loss by addressing the particular conditions where conflict is high. Reducing conflict is a critical step in minimizing lethal control of wild dogs and other predators and establishing rangelands as viable landscapes for their conservation. Efforts by BPCT to meet farmers, understand conflict, educate stakeholders and suggest solutions to human wildlife conflict are ongoing (see our Insurance Compensation Pilot Study).

Vocal Communication and Cognitive Abilities in a Fugitive Species: the African Wild Dog

Hugh Webster, PhD, Sussex University, UK

Wild dog and ZebraHugh worked on the vocal repertoire of African wild dogs, with a particular focus on the production of very high frequency calls. The hypothesis that ultra sonic calls might provide "eavesdropper-free" communication was a focal point of this research. Following on field work first initiated in 2005, playback experiments between lions (Panthera leo), spotted hyenas (Crocuta crocuta) and African wild dogs (Lycaon pictus) were carried out through 2007. These experiments were designed to investigate in greater depth the relationship between these sympatric large carnivores by measuring behavioural responses to interspecific vocalizations. Dr Webster was awarded his PhD in January 2009.